Statesboro City Council approved the city government’s $69.3 million budget for fiscal year 2021 on a 3-2 vote Tuesday, in the lengthiest and least-often unanimous mayor and council get-together in months.
A debate over potentially increasing a $9,000 city subsidy for the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County to $20,000 preceded the budget vote. But one of the two council members who voted “nay” on the overall budget, District 4 Councilman John Riggs, later said this reflected his desire to increase funding for the Statesboro Police Department to deal with increasing violence.
“We can talk about it first, but I’m going to make the motion to approve the budget, but I also want to add an increase in that budget to the Boys & Girls Club,” District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum said, after apologizing to Mayor Jonathan McCollar for “bringing this up kind of late in the budget process.”
“I want to double down on what they do and take it from 9,000 to 20,000 (dollars),” Boyum said.
This was about halfway through Tuesday evening’s nearly three-hour regular meeting, which followed a 90-minute work session. A budget hearing, usually the last step before final approval, had been held June 9.
As now approved, the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes a $17.6 million general fund – the portion funded from taxes –with no tax increases, despite a 7.4% increase in allowed spending over last year’s budgeted amount.
The budget does include an increase in the stormwater fee, used to supply a separate fund for drainage system maintenance and improvements, of $1.05 per equivalent residential unit. In other words, every single-family home receiving a city water bill will see this fee increase from the current $3.95 to exactly $5 a month. Meanwhile, non-residential customers such as businesses, schools and churches will see their fee rise by a multiple of $1.05 based on their area of surfaces such as roofs and parking lots.
B&G or YMCA
In one budget workshop meeting in May, some of the other council members had questioned the existing $9,000 earmark for the Boys & Girls Club and suggested that some or all of that money might go to the Statesboro Family YMCA.
But the final budget that City Manager Charles Penny recommended Tuesday kept the $9,000 earmarked for the Boys & Girls Club. It was never actually removed, he said. The $9,000 was also the Boys & Girls Club amount the previous year, and the city has provided the funding for years.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Penny also provided the mayor and council a draft of a memorandum of understanding with the Boys & Girls Club not yet approved by its leadership. It its own words, this agreement would indicate that the funding is to “subsidize programming” for “underserved juvenile populations” in Statesboro. It does not give specifics.
“The Boys & Girls Club, of those students who go there on a half-time to full-time basis, 98% is the graduation or promotion rate (in school), which is 26 percentage points higher than the state,” Boyum said, proposing the increase to $20,000.
He cited other statistics, such as that 67% of participants improve their grades, and said that 77% are from single-parent families.
“We’re talking about raising up people out of poverty and getting them education,” Boyum said. “Education is the number-one way for the next generation to get out of poverty; 91% of the kids that go to that center are in poverty.”
District 3 Councilwoman Venus Mack said, “I think would be a good thing that Councilman Boyum is saying, but I also don’t want us to forget about the YMCA … and I think that if we’re going to give to one organization that we need to give to both organizations.”
Boyum asserted that the YMCA “does not provide those kinds of services,” being “primarily a gym, primarily run by membership.”
“They do not serve the underserved community,” he said.
But the YMCA does operate summer day camps, Mack noted.
The mayor called it “a slippery slope” for a government to fund nonprofits without specific agreements.
“This is not what I think government should be doing,” McCollar said. “If government is contracting with any entity, then it has to have an outlying service that they are providing, and so I don’t understand how a $9,000 service turns into a $20,000 service and there’s been no amendment to the memorandum of understanding or the expectation of what we’re getting for that $20,000.”
Later adding, “Listen, I built my reputation in this community working with underprivileged and at-risk children,” McCollar noted that he worked for a YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club in the past.
“They both have outstanding services that they provide. … The point that I’m making is not that I don’t want to help,” he said. “We need to be specific what we’re asking them. It’s not our job to subsidize the Boys & Girls Club or any other nonprofit within this community.”
District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr suggested that city staff members “have a conversation with YMCA and see if they are providing services to low-income children” and would want to explore also having an agreement with the city.
Boyum recited a long list of Boys & Girls Clubs in Georgia that receive city subsidies, some using city-owned buildings under contract.
After further discussion among council members and the mayor, Penny spoke up.
“Mayor and members of the council, the budget you have before you has $9,000,” he said. “At some point we can amend that budget if there’s a desire to do that, but it’s a balanced budget today. … We would also have to increase revenue in order to cover that additional $11,000.”
Boyum’s motion died for lack of a second. A motion from Barr, seconded by District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers, to approve the budget as presented passed 3-2 with Boyum and Riggs voting “nay.”
Not Riggs’ reason
But Riggs, in a phone interview Wednesday, indicated that his vote had nothing to do with the Boys & Girls Club funding.
“This budget does not address or recognize our city’s immediate needs concerning public safety and crime,” he said.
Riggs had said nothing about this during Tuesday’s meeting. But he had called for more funding for the Statesboro Police Department, for more officers, last October.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Chief of Police Mike Broadhead provided the council a list of 10 shooting incidents in Statesboro from May 6 to the June 14 murder of Haley Hutcheson, 17. He referred to a widespread “uptick” in violent crimes and noted that some, but not all, of the recent local incidents have confirmed or suspected connections to drug and gang activity.
But Boyum’s objection to the budget was limited to the Boys & Girls Club funding, he confirmed. He said he was “disappointed and surprised” that his addition was rejected and said the organization has “a tremendous, positive long-term impact on our community's youth – particularly those who come from challenging circumstances.”
“The club has an impressive track record and it's hubris to believe the city could improve on the amazing 98% success rate of our local club," Boyum emailed. "For such a small sum of money, we could have shown our support for an organization that has consistently lifted up hundreds of our city's most vulnerable children."