In some ways it doesn’t look like a merry Christmas season for Midway with city officials looking for ways to cut spending and two key employees disciplined.
At a meeting Monday on the 2017 budget, Midway Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington told officials, "We’re going to have to make some stiff changes . . . you better get used to it."
That budget session was interrupted by a called meeting during which city council suspended Police Chief Kelli Morningstar and reprimanded Finance Director Gwendolyn Lowe.
Morningstar was given a three-day suspension without pay in a tersely worded resolution introduced by Councilman Stanley Brown that only cited insubordination as the reason.
As chief, Morningstar is directly subordinate to Washington, the chief executive officer of the city.
It was unclear Tuesday when Morningstar will serve her suspension. The police department’s second-in-command, Sgt. Mark Rich, would normally fill in during an absence of the chief.
Morningstar could not be reached for comment.
The motion to reprimand Lowe cited her for inappropriate behavior during a Nov. 14 budget
hearing. At that session there was discussion of a proposal by Washington to hire a supervisor to run the water department for a salary of $42,000 annually.
Lowe currently supervises that department along with her other duties. She had no comment on the reprimand.
During Monday’s budget session, city council members questioned a $6,796 bill for ammunition for the police department.
The mayor and council seemed displeased that much of the purchased ammo was for officers’ personal weapons, not for the service weapons furnished by the city.
"We need more oversight of what’s going on," Washington said.
The city allows officers to carry backup weapons but does not pay for them and officers must qualify annually on weapons they carry, according to Officer Duvall Page, who told the council that each member of the force is issued a Glock 40 handgun, an M4 military style rifle and a shotgun.
Much of the ammo purchase appeared to be for a variety of handguns and rifles, not for the city-issued service weapons.
Since the ammo can’t be returned it will be paid for, officials said.
Council members are looking to cut funding in areas such as travel, training and office supplies while delaying salary decisions until a later meeting. Several employees have asked for pay increases and a two-percent raise for members of the six-person police department has been requested.
Lowe told the council at a previous meeting that complying with the hourly wage provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act could mean the city will be paying substantial overtime to employees.
Other than employee pay, one big ticket items in the 2017 budget is a new city hall building.
The one-percent special local option sales tax just approved by voters will pay a lot of the projected $1 million cost of the new building, officials say.
The police department and Midway’s municipal court will share the facility and space will be included for small community meetings and events. The specific site has not been chosen but the building will be on city-owned land on Charlie Butler Road near the Cay Creek Wetlands Interpretive Center.
Washington said she hopes to occupy the new city hall toward the end of 2017. Negotiations are under way with Savannah architect L. Scott Barnard for design work on the city hall.
A new Upper Floridan well, a new police car, sewer extension, a backup pump for the water/sewer system and waterline and fire hydrants are also among big ticket items in the proposed 2017 budget. Midway also will hold municipal elections next year and funds will have to be budgeted for that.
The next Midway budget session is set for Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. at the police department.
Two more meetings are scheduled: Dec. 19 and Dec. 21. Both meetings start at 9 a.m.
Also Monday, the mayor announced that Midway’s Christmas tree lighting will be Dec. 6.