Most cities don't merely write budgets these days. They cut here, cut there, cut most everywhere, reducing some services to the bare minimum, and with what's left they use for the next fiscal year.
Yet, there are current examples in Anniston and Oxford where politicians are having no problem spending money — lots of it, in fact.
Taxpayers should pay attention.
In Oxford, each day that passes without a ruling from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers draws that city closer to committing more money for the idle sports complex project. Already, Oxford has spent nearly half a million dollars on contract delay fees with Taylor Corp., the construction company that had started site work when ancient Native American remains were found there Feb. 8.
The corps wasn't properly notified when the remains were discovered, so the corps stopped all construction while it consulted with Indian tribes about the site and the remains. The error has already cost the city a hefty six-figure penalty, and the flat-rate fee the City Council negotiated with Taylor Corp. expires at the end of July. Thus, it's easy to expect the half-million-dollar penalty going higher in the dog days of August.
What else could that money be spent on in Oxford?
Not to be outdone, Anniston and its City Council have spent more than $100K — a combined $100,102, in fact — above what was budgeted for legal fees during the last five years. Two years in particular stand out: In 2008, the city busted its legal-fee budget by $48,130; in '09, it spent $49,277 more than it had allocated for legal services.
This year, it's a safe bet that the council will bust its legal-fee budget by a similar amount. There's no telling how much the council's decision to investigate itself — with City Attorney Cleo Thomas charging the allowed rate of $150 an hour for his services — will eventually cost Anniston in legal fees.
What else could that money be spent on in Anniston?
Taxpayers of both cities should consider the possibilities: Are there roads in Oxford that need paving? Could the Anniston Police Department put that money toward equipment or salary increases for its cops? Would $500,000 help revitalize Oxford's downtown, provide for new school buses, or modernize Oxford Lake? Could $100,000 be a small impetus for preservation of a few historic Anniston structures or some of Noble Street's needy buildings?
Mayors and city councils are charged with being good stewards of taxpayers' money. That's one of politicians' most important tasks. And today, residents in Oxford and Anniston have every right to ask if these councils are being good stewards of taxpayers' money.
In both cases, that's a lot of money, with not much in return.