While the motion to adopt the nearly $13 million budget passed with four council members in favor, three opposed the motion, including Mayor Billy Copeland.
Two budget options were presented to the council.
The first option consisted of about $12.4 million and the second option consisted of the approved $12.9 figure, which represented about 5 and 9 percent increases, respectively, from the $11.8 million 2014 budget.
Both options covered funding items such as overtime pay for city employees to prepare better for an event like the winter storms that paralyzed the metro Atlanta area twice at the beginning of 2014, as well as software maintenance and updates.
The second budget, however, also allowed the addition of four firefighters and one police officer to address public safety issues.
In order to achieve the second budget figure, a millage increase to 4.9 mills from the current 4.3 mills was suggested.
While three citizens spoke against the millage increase during the public comments session of the meeting, other council members spoke up in favor of the increase in order to fund public safety needs.
“From what I’m hearing from staff, all of the current positions we have are essential positions,” said Councilwoman Sandra Vincent. “Some of the council members are saying ‘we don’t want to increase taxes,’ but there have been several years where we have not looked at the cost of service delivery and for political or emotional reasons, have not increased the millage rate.”
She said that while no one wants to see taxes increase, the current level of service and service improvements must be maintained.
Councilwoman Gail Notti also spoke about the need for updates and improvements to city services.
“The overtime needs to be put in because of what we experienced with winter and not having sufficient funds,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we’ll experience an event like that this [fiscal] year, but we do not need to overlook it. As for software, the city has purchased programs that have not been properly utilized and we must be up to date to deliver information to our citizens properly, and an increase in supplies for police and fire personnel is necessary to try to deliver a true level of safety.”
Notti also said the city has half the safety personnel Forest Park has for the same number of residents.
Although millage increases were discussed, city attorney Leigh Hancher said that by law, public hearings and notices had to occur before the millage rate could be changed.
“[McDonough] has to adopt a balanced budget by a certain date, yet the county doesn’t have its tax digest certified until another date so it is not possible for the city to meet all deadlines at once,” she said.
“We’re not voting to raise the millage rate tonight because we have to have additional public hearings and publish notices in the paper to increase that rate.”
Hancher said hearings and public notices will probably begin in July.