Mayor, councilman get in heated exchange over city budget
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A discussion about the Charleston budget became heated Thursday night when Councilman Cubert Smith tried to abstain from voting on the document.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones refused to allow Smith, an East End independent, to abstain. He told him he could only abstain if he had a direct conflict of interest.
"You can vote no or vote yes," Jones told Smith.
Smith refused to acquiesce, and attempted to stick to his original attempt to abstain. At this point Jones declared Smith was out of order and the city clerk should note that he refused to vote in the official record.
"Don't try to vote for me," Smith yelled as Jones declared that the record would reflect the councilman was refusing to vote.
At the heart of the matter is a budget line item for a public arts director.
The public arts director is to manage and implement a public art plan that would be approved by the Public Art Commission.
The director would also serve as a city resource for public art information. The director would also be expected to work with nonprofits, artists and other entities on public art initiatives.
The director would also be expected to identify fundraising opportunities.
The budgeted salary for the position is $60,471. However, Council President Tom Lane, an at-large Republican, pointed out that this is the high end of the salary range.
The director could make $47,741 to $60,471, Lane said.
Smith was upset that council members had not been consulted about the position before it was inserted into the budget.
"The thing I have a problem with is we weren't given enough information about the position," Smith said. "I would not vote because of that."
Smith said he was also upset because there were no official qualifications for the position as yet. The position will also come with some additional costs such as health care benefits and items such as office supplies, he said.
"None of that was built into this budget," Smith said.
However, Lane pointed out that the job description was emailed to council members earlier in the week. Exact duties and qualifications could be hashed out when city officials began interviewing applicants.
"The real debate needs to occur when we fill the position," Lane said.
When asked how he felt about Jones declaring he was out of order and that the record would reflect a no vote, Smith said, "That's the mayor's opinion."
"And he has the right to his opinion," he added.
Despite Smith's statements, council approved the $87.3 million budget with only one amendment.
Due to a clerical error when calculating the budget, the city's allocation to the Kanawha County Library was short by $18,601.
Council amended the amount to reflect the true allocation of $925,626 just before the budget was passed.
The city's contingency fund for the upcoming fiscal year was reduced from $96,061 to $77,460 to cover the increase for the library allocation.
The budget includes $43.9 million in business and occupation taxes projected for the upcoming fiscal year. This is an increase of $2.7 million over the current fiscal year's budgeted amount.
The budget also included $13 million in revenue generated by property taxes. This is an increase of about $597,000 over the current fiscal year's budget.
The upcoming fiscal year's budget also includes an allocation of about $11.2 million to cover health care costs. This is up by about $2.2 million over the current fiscal year's budgeted amount.