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2012-09-27

Council aims to 'Bring clarity' to city's fog

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Attempting to bring "clarity to the fog," City of Bandera municipal attorney Barbara Boulware-Wells oversaw a special meeting of Bandera City Council on Monday, Sept. 17, that addressed expenditures and a necessary spate of end-of-the-fiscal-year budget adjustment approvals.

According to Boulware-Wells, under Section 1.04.036 of the city code of ordinances, City Administrator Mike Cardenas has authority to expend up to $1,500. Since the recent remodeling went over the threshold amount, Cardenas, she indicated, should have informed city council about the overages.

"Although $3,000 had been budgeted for building maintenance, after spending the first $1,500, Mike should have brought the matter before city council for approval to spend the remainder of the allocated funds," Boulware-Wells said in an interview on Tuesday, Sept. 18. "As projects proceed, often more things that need to be done are identified. That can mount up."

Cost more than envisioned

Additionally, she addressed an earlier statement that Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher also had spending discretion to a maximum of $1,500.

During last week's meeting, Boulware-Wells attributed the confusion to a period when "former Mayor Horst Pallaske had taken over the duties of city administrator" after the retirement of former City Administrator Gene Foerster.

Boulware-Wells also admitted that several former mayors had previously assumed they had authority to expend up to $1,500. "However, I could find no city ordinance that gave them this authority," Boulware-Wells said.

"Some things were done with the understanding that money was available," she said, "but the cost increase was more than originally envisioned. That's what can happen as a project goes along and that's what people had questions about."

The entire upgrade of the municipal building cost $13,104, which included security improvements, expansion of an office for the municipal judge, demolition, installation of new flooring, painting walls and trim, electrical and air conditioning work, adding new shelving, insulating windows, renovating restrooms, patching holes in walls and updating cabinets and countertops. Work was completed in the offices of the municipal judge, city marshal and city secretary, as well as in the council chamber.

Boulware-Wells' statement, "If Gene (Foerster) overspent on projects, the council approved his expenditures," startled many longtime council watchers.

In recent memory, the only budget adjustment brought before council by Foerster for formal ratification concerned the employment of utilities clerk Lisa Chacon. Council had to approve formally the new hire's salary.

$50K overage

The most notable overrun not brought before council, however, was $50,000 overspent on a drainage project along 12th Street in 2010 - a project that ultimately failed. Not only did council never approve the budget adjustment, they remained blissfully unaware of the scope of the overrun.

The $80,000 final tally - up from the
originally budgeted $30,000 - only came to light during a special meeting on Sept. 11, 2012. Boulware-Wells' statement made it seem that council(s) routinely approved budget adjustments after being apprised of cost overrun expenditures - which wasn't the case.

"I had no idea about the overrun on the 12th Street project until last night," Boulware-Wells said during the telephone interview. "Gene routinely brought (verbal) reports to council about projects with overages.

No one on council ever questioned why the projects had cost more than originally budgeted. While council might not have actually voted to approve the budget amendments, they gave their implicit approval by offering no objections."

'Lot of catch up'

Now, unwilling to approve by mere consensus, during last Monday's meeting, council also approved budget amendments for specific line items to amend the 2011-2012 budget - something that had also never occurred at the close of past fiscal years.

Boulware-Wells noted, "The city has to do a lot of 'catch up' on several fronts." As she explained, the final adjustments in the 2010-2011 budget document give both council and constituents a chance to see how the city's finances flowed during the year.

Bringing additional clarity and closure to the brouhaha about updates to the municipal building, she added, "There has been no crime committed." Boulware-Wells suggested that although Cardenas has the "latitude to carry things forth," she thought it wise of him to keep council apprised of the progress of various projects. "It is not necessary for council to re-approve (already budgeted) projects, this would be informational," she said.

When asked whether the project updates should be done by memo or in a formal meeting, she said it would depend upon the circumstances. "In a large street project, it would not be realistic to keep heavy equipment waiting while Mike came back to council to let them know he was spending $1,500 incrementally," Boulware-Wells said.

Instead, at the start of an extensive project, Cardenas should bring projected numbers to the council, including a timeline and cost estimate. "If he finds himself reaching the budgeted threshold, he needs to inform council immediately so more money can be added to the project," she continued.

No one fined

At that time, council would approve a line item transfer or budget adjustment for the expected overage. "Mike would need to give them a rough estimate of the final cost of the project," she added. "This would keep everyone apprised and in the loop."

All 2011-2012 budget amendments were approved unanimously - as were all expenditures not authorized in full compliance with either the city code of ordinances or prior approval of city council.

After the meeting, a concerned citizen asked Boulware-Wells if Cardenas would be "fined" for not adhering to the ordinance.

"It is my understanding that the action taken by city council ratified and approved expenditures after the fact. This was done with the understanding that rules and guidelines would be followed," she said, noting, "These are new positions, which always have a learning curve."

Boulware-Wells continued, "It was always understood that the upgrades and remodeling of the municipal building would be brought before city council. It was just a matter of when and how. This work was done in the open. Everyone knew the work was proceeding. The project has been vetted fully and approved after the fact."

However, attempting to have the last word, Councilman Brandi Morgan said pointedly, "I know there will be some that will not appreciate this, but I want everyone to know that the mayor cannot tell Mike to spend money."

"I have never done that," Schumacher rejoined, "and I hope you would give Mike enough credit that he would never do that."