Tight budget forces Piedmont council members to think twice about travel to seminar
by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Feb 06, 2013 | 3212 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PIEDMONT — Four of Piedmont’s seven council members say they’re willing to skip the expense involved in an annual training session on account of the city’s financial condition.

“It’s thousands of dollars and we could be doing something else with it concerning the city,” said Councilman Ben Keller. “If it benefits the city more, I’d rather stay here.”

Municipal leaders throughout the state have the opportunity to attend annual training and meeting sessions in Montgomery during May. The meetings, organized by the Alabama League of Municipalities, would cost Piedmont roughly $7,000 in travel and lodging expenses if council members attend.

Councilman Bill Baker said at a work session Tuesday that Piedmont’s finances are “not in the best shape right now.” He said he wouldn’t attend the meetings at the city’s expense this year.

“Right now I would like to see a little bit more money in hand and I think it will be there but it’s not there right now,” Baker said, adding that there is no cause for alarm.

Asked later for details, Baker said in late fall and early winter months the city’s revenue comes in slowly and that the city is in a financial “hole” right now.

Officials did not provide figures to illustrate the current state of the city’s finances. Councilman Frank Cobb said more information will be revealed following the release of an annual audit, which is required by law and has not yet been turned over to city officials.

While the majority of council members said at the work session that they do not believe the city should pay for council members to go, one city leader disagreed. Councilman Frank Cobb said he thinks that paying for attendance would be worth the investment.

Cobb said the Montgomery meeting can be used as a business recruitment tool, adding that several representatives from industrial companies also attend the sessions. He also said council members will have the chance to exchange ideas with others who govern municipalities of a comparable size, if they attend the annual training meetings.

“That league meeting, to me, is one of the most important meetings we go to.” Cobb said. “I‘ve seen that meeting be very useful. It’s a great tool.”

Keller, Baker, Kenny Kelley and Terry Kiser all said they were not in favor of attending the meeting, while Brenda Spears said she wants to hear from voters before deciding whether she wants the city to pay for the trip.

Council members would still be able to attend the meetings if the city doesn’t pay for their expenses, the city leaders said.

The expense was approved with the passage of the budget at a recent meeting, but could be repealed by a vote at the next meeting. The council could vote on the matter at the next council meeting, said Piedmont City Clerk Michelle Franklin.

At a regular meeting following the work session, council members voted on two routine matters: to approve the written record from a previous meeting and to approve monthly bill payments.

Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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