- Real Estate
- Paris Flash
The Paris City Council, at a 5:30 p.m. special meeting today, will begin the process of going through the proposed 2013-14 budget.
There’s no cost-of-living raise for employees, no merit raises, no new fire stations, no additional firefighters, no additional policemen or EMS personnel — no changes either up or down from present employment levels, no changes in insurance, no boost in pensions for former employees.
To do any of that would require an increase in taxes, and this council — as preceding councils — has emphasized a desire to cut taxes, not raise them. The City of Paris also has more than $12 million in cash reserves (savings), of which about $9.2 million — enough to operate the city for five months — must be kept there.
So far, the emphasis of the present council has been to use excess reserve funds on the infrastructure, rather than to spend it on other capital projects or on employees. Capital expenditures in the proposed 2013-14 budget account for only 1.25 percent of the General Fund budget and 10.2 percent of the Water and Sewer Fund budget.
Accordingly, Anderson is proposing a decrease in the tax rate by almost a full penny per $100 assessed valuation to just under 51 cents. He is able to do that because the Lamar County Tax Appraisal Office says the property value in the county has risen.
The new, slightly lower rate is being set at the level that will bring in the exact same amount of revenue as for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
Some members of the council — District 5 Councilman Matt Frierson and District 4 Councilman Richard Grossnickle, now joined by District 1 Councilman Aaron Jenkins — are signaling an interest to revisit the issue of whether to include the Red River Region Business Incubator and Rickey Hayes‘ Retail Attractions in the budget.
Councilmen John Wright, who represents District 3, and Councilman AJ Hashmi, who represents District 7, have shown no indication of changing their opposition to both.
That leaves Councilwomen Sue Lancaster of District 2 and Cleonne Drake of District 6 as swing votes on the retail issue. Both sided with Wright and Hashmi on June 24 to produce a 4-2 vote to send the PEDC budget back with instructions to take out funding for R3bi and Retail Attractions.
The PEDC has done that, and now it remains to be seen whether the Paris City Council will fund one or both with city funds. Both Lancaster and Drake said they wanted to wait until the PEDC got an answer back from the attorney general’s office on the legality of a Type 4A organization using funds for other than creating manufacturing jobs.
But, because it was under instructions from the City Council to ax the retail money, the PEDC board last week decided not to follow through with an attorney general’s request. So, the question is whether that will influence Lancaster and/or Drake to provide a possible council vote in the other direction now — for one or both of the retail ventures.
There is considerable lobbying from business leaders for them to do just that.
Also of interest in today’s council meeting is a discussion and possibly a vote on whether to submit to the people in November a vote on one or more amendments to the City Charter.
The most controversial possibility was advanced last week by Hashmi, who wants to change a provision in the Charter that has been there since the document was written 65 years ago: ”Section 23: Council not to interfere in appointments or removals.“
That paragraph of the Charter prohibits a council member from directing the city manager or any of his subordinates in the appointment or removal of any city employee, “provided, however, that the appointment of department heads shall be subject to the approval of the council.”
Hashmi said the Charter should be changed to allow the City Council to veto the manager’s termination of a department head as well.
City Manager John Godwin said Paris is only the second city he’s worked in that allows the council to override the manager’s selection of a department head (Longview was the other), and that was only for the police chief or a fire chief.
At today’s council meeting, council members are being asked to offer up for discussion any other things they’d like changed in the Charter. Any changes to the Charter must be approved by a vote of the people, and a city must wait at least two years from one Charter election to the next.
The City of Paris last had a Charter election in 2011, when Mayor Will Biard proposed a change in Section 16 to allow members of the City Council to serve up to three consecutive two-year terms (up from two consecutive two-year terms). That passed comfortably.
Among the amendments mentioned for consideration is to change Section 16 again to change the length of a term from two years to three years, keeping the maximum length at six years by setting the maximum at two consecutive three-year terms instead of three consecutive two-year terms.
In 2007, a 12-person citizens Charter Committee was appointed by the council to proposed changes in the Charter. That committee came up with 70 proposed changes in an outdated document, and citizens approved all 70 changes, all by a vote of about 90 percent.
In recent years, there has also been support for making it more difficult for citizens to force a vote of the people on new legislation (“INITIATIVE”) or to veto legislation the council has passed (“REFERENDUM”) or to vote out a councilman during his or her term (“RECALL”) by getting signatures from registered voters.
To force the council to call an election:
An “initiative” or “referendum” requires the signatures of 25 percent of the number of votes cast in the cumulative seven districts in the last contested general election for each district.”
Because Paris historically has a low voter turnout, the number of signatures required is fairly easily achieved — too easy, some say.
A “recall” of a council member requires signatures equal in number to at least 51 percent of the total number of votes cast “at the last contested municipal election at which a council member was elected from that district, or the signatures of at least 200 qualified voters of that district, whichever is greater.”
Following is the agenda for today’s meeting: