The weekend had been the 26th CASA mud volleyball tournament, and Mayor Ronnie had been a ref. Despite his best efforts to dodge the various deluges of mud when it flew in his direction, he got happily muddy, too, even his glasses. The tourney raised $10,000, drew 90 teams, and there were even some teams that had to be turned away. The discussion of the topic of “mudslinging” ended up being a nice segue to what can occasionally inspire some emotional fisticuffs, and that is the budget for the City of Athens for the next fiscal year.
There are people who love budgets, love working with them, making them work, trimming here, finding money to put there. I am not one of them, but Mayor Ronnie is. “Budgets are fun,” Ronnie said. “Fun? OK, I am just glad it’s you behind that desk and not me,” I replied. He went on to tell me that when he worked in Montgomery he had some great teachers in the state finance department—people who really understood how to be fiscally conservative and find ways to make government function well financially.
“We are within 60 days of closing out the budget for 2014,” he said. The final report will be finished in November. Annette Barnes and Kent Lewter are working on the general fund, wastewater and gas budget, and their year begins on October 1st.
“We are in the process of meeting with department heads who are hammering out their budgets,” he said, and then the City Council will meet in mid August to approve them, line item by line item. The funds are then released on October 1st.
I asked him, “How did we finish this year?” “We anticipate another successful year,” he said, “with a million to 1.2 million dollar surplus in the bank.” He then added, “The General Fund is always squeezed tight, but we try to keep it conservative and still find ways to buy things like police cars and street paving.” This year we were able to buy two police cars, and there is about $750,000 set aside for street and road repair. “About $600,000 of that came from an ATRIP grant, and though torn up streets are annoying, they are a sign of progress,” he added. We chatted about all the things upon which our city needs to spend money, and how to do it well. “The biggest challenge for any mayor is managing the money,” he said. “Everybody’s got a different idea of what is important and how to spend it, and finding a balance in all of it is tough,” he said. Thank God the man enjoys a challenge.
It so happened when we did this interview that the day before had been the 45th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, an event which put our area on the map forever. We talked about it some. I asked him, “Where were you when they landed?” “In Vietnam,” he replied. “The technology was such that I didn’t even find out about it until two weeks after the fact.” He then asked me the same question. With perhaps a touch of chagrin I told him I was at a “Last Rising of the Virgin Moon” gathering that was for the purpose of mourning the event. He stood and looked at me for a bit as if he was trying to figure out what to say, and then he asked, “Ali, just how much dope DID you smoke?” “Enough,” I replied. I thanked him again for being willing to protect people like I used to be. And then we prayed.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner