In a 3-0 vote, the Jackson City Council on Dec. 18 approved the city’s 2019 budget, a spending plan of $10.8 million, up from the 2018 budget of $10.58 million.

Next year’s budget also includes a 5 percent increase in what the city charges electric customers.

The 2019 budget was approved by council members Lewis Sims, Theodore Patterson and Beth S. Weaver. Councilman Ricky “P-Nut” Johnson Jr., who serves as mayor pro tem, conducted the meeting in the absence of Mayor Kay Pippin, and was therefore unable to vote due to what council members said is a prohibition in the city charter on the executive voting except in case of a tie. Council member Don Cook was also absent from the meeting.

Johnson said later that had he been able to cast a vote, he would voted in opposition to the budget. But he thanked city staff members for the work put into the plan.

“For the record, I personally would have voted against it for the simple fact of the raising of the rates as a way to balance the budget,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to be for that and never will. But as far as the effort and time and work put into that budget, it’s absolutely wonderful and we’re thankful for you and we’re blessed to have you. … Hopefully over the next coming months and years we’ll find a way, as I campaigned on, to roll back these rates and still balance these budgets. But we did the best we could at this time.”

According to budget documents prepared for the council, the city in 2019 is facing lower revenues from its electric and water and sewer utility departments — enterprises that are designed to generate a profit to help fund the general operation of the government — while at the same time facing increased employee health care costs and other costs for employee uniforms and equipment. The city also has budgeted for a 3 percent salary increase for eligible employees.

Pippin has said the 5 percent increase in electric rates would increase the average bill by just under $7 per month.

In other business at the Dec. 18 meeting, the Jackson City Council approved a slate of long-term right of way encroachment permits, a routine procedure to approve the placement of private property, mainly signs and awnings, that hang over public sidewalks in the city’s downtown.

Council members also gave routine approval to a slate of alcoholic beverage license renewals for 2019.

The City Council also voted to appoint Barry Weaver to the Butts County Transportation Board. Sims and Patterson voted in favor while Beth Weaver, Barry’s spouse, abstained. Barry Weaver previously served on a committee discussing the possible consolidation of county and city governments. That committee was disbanded.

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Michael Davis has been the editor of the Jackson Progress-Argus since 2010. He previously worked as an editor and reporter for the Henry Daily Herald and Clayton News-Daily.