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Mansfield residents raise payroll questions at public hearing

MANSFIELD — Citizens who spoke at a public hearing on the proposed 2014 city budget raised questions about current salaries and the City Council’s plan to add a treasurer to City Hall staff.

Mansfield is still in the process of finalizing its current year budget after the former mayor, Estona Middlebrooks, did not present a proposed budget in time for approval by the end of the 2013 calendar year. Middlebrooks later resigned amid questions about her financial management practices.

During the public hearing Monday night, resident Vicki Cowan pointed out that the council’s plan to add a treasurer/accountant at $50,000 a year will bring the City Hall staff to five.

Resident Bonnie Smith questioned council members about the $31,798 annual salary paid to City Clerk Jamie Ruark, particularly in light of the fact that the council will add a treasurer/accountant to the payroll.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels it’s a lot of money for somebody who doesn’t have all the qualifications,” said Smith. “That’s my question. And if you are going to hire a bookkeeper, is that going to be additional to her income?”

Interim-Mayor Jefferson Riley said the city needs an accountant to shore up its financial management.

“We need to do some work in our accounting area and we must bring that up to date as quickly as possible, and we need some accounting help to do that,” he said. “I can’t state now what we are going to do long term but, yes ma’am, there is going to be an additional person.”

Other questions raised by the three citizens who spoke highlighted areas of the budget where more scrutiny may be needed. Council members said they were unsure of the answers to some questions about budgeting for payroll taxes and other deductions, as well as $150 budgeted for taxes.

Riley said the council would look into those matters and have answers at the next regular meeting.

Councilman Matt Clark, who was instrumental in pulling the budget together, said he felt “a little self-conscious” about not knowing the answers to citizens’ questions.

“I feel like we ought to know,” he said. “… We worked really hard on this budget and a lot of this information we were very familiar with … and some of it we were not that familiar with, and we should be. I’m not really trying to make an excuse, just trying to give you a reason. We are going to do better on that going forward.”

Mansfield’s proposed $1.073 million budget includes 15 percent increases in revenues from water, sewer and electric utilities as well as a transfer of $51,996 to the general fund from savings in order to balance the budget. All other revenues and expenses are budgeted based on 2013 actuals.

The City Council will hold its regular work session on April 10, at 7 p.m. The next regular voting session will be held Monday, April 14, 7 p.m. Both meetings will be held at the Community Center on Ga. Highway 11.