During recent Mount Airy budget discussions, Commissioner Steve Yokeley seemed uncharacteristically quiet, offering few comments throughout the process — but he’s broken his silence by leveling stern criticism toward fellow council members.
“The (budget) process this year has shown this board to be misdirected, lacking foresight, disorganized, unsettled, unpredictable, unreliable and, quite frankly, dysfunctional,” Yokeley said Thursday night during a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting, reading from a prepared statement.
Developing the budget is always a “difficult” proposition, he said of the process of aligning revenues with expenditures.
“This board has made this year particularly challenging,” Yokeley added regarding the finalizing of a municipal budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
“It has been especially frustrating, confusing, bewildering, quite astonishing and appalling,” he said. “I have felt as if I had been transported into the Twilight Zone and not living in Mayberry anymore.”
Yokeley read from his one-page statement Thursday night in conjunction with the meeting agenda that included putting the finishing touches on the new budget that goes into effect on July 1.
City workers shortchanged?
The official adoption of the budget had come during a June 9 workshop meeting at City Hall, a 3-2 decision in which Yokeley and Commissioner Shirley Brinkley cast the opposing votes.
Among other last-minute changes, the package included raises for sworn officers with the Mount Airy Police Department, but no increases for other personnel on the city payroll containing 171 positions altogether.
Yokeley advocating heavily for raises for those employees for 2017-2018 in order to fulfill a promise he said was made to increase salaries under a three-year plan that began with a 3-percent hike for the present fiscal year.
He referred to this situation in the statement read Thursday night.
“This board has made promises that it didn’t keep, and has weakened all city departments,” Yokeley said.
Part of the justification for singling out the police was the dangerous work they face compared to other municipal employees, and an ongoing vacancy problem faced by the force. Under the new budget, starting officers’ pay will go from $29,000 to $34,000.
Yokeley, however, thinks other workers have been done a disservice through all this.
“City employees have been disrespected and it has been implied that they are expendable,” his statement reads.
Time, energy “wasted”
It also took aim at the way in which the city’s 2017-2018 general fund budget evolved. It began in March with a directive to limit it to $12 million — more than $2 million less than the adjusted budget for the present fiscal year — and to do so without a property-tax increase while also including the police raises.
But during a budget workshop on April 26, board members declined to support steps to produce such a lean budget.
City Manager Barbara Jones then presented a proposed budget in May calling for general fund expenditures of $13.1 million and salary increases for employees as a whole — but requiring a 5-cent hike in property taxes.
And when the commissioners met last week to discuss the budget, they instructed the city manager to trim that package in a 4-1 vote, with Yokeley dissenting.
When Jones returned with the updated budget that included no salary increases for any workers, the majority of the board decided to approve only the police raises, among other changes or additions.
The city manager said Thursday night that the $12.6 million spending package finally adopted — with no tax hike — was the eighth version of the budget.
Yokeley said when reading from his statement that Jones “and all other city employees who have worked on this year’s budget have earned their halos and angel wings because of the many extra and completely unnecessary hours that they have had to spend in preparing this year’s budget.”
He added: “Numerous times during this budget process, they have had a directive to do one thing and then when it has been presented, that directive has been changed. Much time and energy has been wasted.”
Board methods questioned
Yokeley further questioned the council’s operation as a whole.
“This board continually makes important decisions on the spur of the moment – whatever seems to be expedient at that particular instant is the norm. Just as appalling is when a majority decision is finally made, sometimes that decision will be sabotaged and reversed in short order.”
Yokeley said this undermines the intent behind long-range planning.
“Even though it is badly needed for any organization to have an outline for a strategic plan and blueprint for the future, including an estimate of required expenditures and sources of future revenue,” he stated, “it will be a waste of time for this board to talk about a 10-year plan, or a five-year plan, or a one-year plan or even a 10-second plan.”
No other city officials responded to Yokeley’s comments Thursday night, when he concluded by saying — to applause from some audience members — that the alleged uncertainty surrounding the board has made him confident of just one thing:
“The only certainty that I currently feel is that my comments this evening will bring attempts at revenge and retaliation by certain individuals, but these remarks needed to be made.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.