In a divided vote, Spanish Fort city leaders passed an almost $10.1 million budget last week.
During the budget discussion at the Spanish Fort City Council work session, questions were raised about continued funding for both the Spanish Fort Volunteer Fire-Rescue department and the amount given to help supplement athletics for the Spanish Fort feeder pattern schools.
The fire department had asked for around $680,000 in the coming year’s budget, an increase from the $540,000 appropriation the previous year, that would allow for the hiring of three new full-time firefighters.
Councilman J.R. Smith said he wanted to continue the conversation about making the fire department an official city department, especially given the increase in funds asked for from the city.
“I know there are a lot of moving parts to make that happen, but I would like to see that start to move forward,” J.R. Smith said. “I think it’s the city’s responsibility to help provide a fire department, and it should be helped by volunteers instead of the volunteers running it and us as a city helping them.”
Councilman Bill Menas said he was also in favor of having discussions about bringing the fire department in as a city department.
“No one questions that we have the finest fire department in all of the county,” Menas said. “But at what point do you get tired of paying rent and want to own? We’ve been renting the services, and at some point, you want to have ownership. You want to have that on your bottom line.”
“I want to have some work sessions with the fire department and sit down to talk about pros and cons for both parties,” McMillan said. “Long term, I think I do see that department coming into the city. We all do. But, we need to all sit down and talk about what that looks like and what it’s going to cost long term.”
Councilwoman Mary Brabner also raised an issue with the funding stipends given to Spanish Fort athletic coaches from the city’s budget.
“We don’t need to be paying Baldwin County schools employees,” Brabner said. “We’re not paying the math coach, we’re not paying the scholar’s bowl coach - and that’s wrong.”
Brabner said she would rather see the $30,000 appropriation used for other purposes within the city.
“I can’t in good faith approve this budget,” Brabner said. “People who didn’t know we’re paying coaches are livid. They don’t like it.”
McMillan said that the city isn’t just cutting those coaches a check, as the supplements are tied to athletic camps that the coaches help facilitate.
“We make them work for what they get,” McMillan said. “Some cities just give them a stipend, but we don’t do that. I’m glad we do it the way we do it.”
McMillan said if the city moved forward with the possible three mill special tax district it has discussed this year, he could see further funding for the schools that would include academic funding.
“I see eventually that will be done if can get the three mills done for the school funding,” McMillan said.
Brabner said she still felt uncomfortable voting for any budget that included the additional coach funding.
“We’ve made a precedent for putting athletics over academics, and I’m over it,” Brabner said. “I’m done.”
Brabner was the lone no vote on the budget, which passed at the meeting 5-1.