“Based on our meeting Tuesday night, I feel confident we can pass a budget,” Mayor Randy Sims said.
He said the council will be considering a three-month temporary budget for the time period from October to December and a regular 12-month budget which will go into effect in January. The city has been operating without a budget since October.
The council will hold an open forum at 6 p.m. today at the municipal building to give the public a chance to ask the mayor and council questions about the budget. Sims has promised to present copies of the proposed budget with three columns of inform—ation last year’s budget figures, actual expenditures and this year’s budget amounts.
Tuesday night’s council meeting was attended by more than 100 people who came to the city gymnasium to express their concerns about city operation. Several called on the mayor and council to put aside personal feelings and move on with city business. Council members Earlis McGraw, Andrew Ritchie and Bobby Mullenix attended the meeting. The fourth council member, Keith Pike, sent word to the meeting that he had resigned, effective immediately.
Mt. Zion has traditionally operated on an October through September fiscal budget. The system has operated well in the past, according to Sims, but it got derailed this year when the county and municipalities couldn’t agree on a local option sales tax (LOST) division formula by the city’s budget time. Attempts by the mayor to pass a temporary three-month budget have been rejected by the council, which has left the city on shaky legal ground of operating without a budget.
The city has since decided to go to a calendar year, which Sims said is in line with other local municipalities.
David Mecklin, the city’s attorney, said state law requires that every city has a budget, although there’s no penalty for not having one.
“It’s required for a state audit,” Mecklin said. “If it’s not passed in proper time, the state could start withholding sales tax money, grant money and insurance premiums. It would be a financial blow to the city. The city does need to pass a 12-month budget by the end of the year.”
A member in Tuesday’s audience, Gina Akins, called the tension between the mayor and council “an elephant in the room,” and said nothing could get done in the city until the hard feelings are settled.
Sims denied the problem is discord among the mayor and council.
“We play cards together, drink beer together and still call ourselves friends,” he said. “For some reason, they’re on one side of the fence and I’m on the other. I don’t know why we have a difference.”
But Sims felt by the end of Tuesday night’s meeting that the two sides had come closer, especially with the decision to add the third column of information to the budget.
In response to a question about a tax decrease, Sims said the city’s millage rate will go down, from 7.29 to 7.15 mills in the 2013 budget.
“2014 should bring bigger drops,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about the city being in the red. As long as we don’t go back to an economy with soup kitchens, Mt. Zion will finish in the black on this budget.”
Monday's meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the Mt. Zion City Municipal Building.