Attorney Fee Increase Okayed

OCEAN CITY – An ongoing issue received a hesitant go-ahead this week as the City Council approved additional funding for city attorney fees.

The ordinance on the table in its final reading stated, “The City of Salisbury’s projection indicates an increase of $26,000 is needed in the FY13 appropriations for the City Attorney in order to meet the projected requirements for legal fees for the remainder of FY 2013.”

City Attorney Mark Tilghman explained he is concerned because for the first time this year the city will begin collecting personal property tax, which amounts to over 300 cases and only 10 percent of those cases have been initiated. Tilghman furthered the tax returns are sent out monthly with an expiration date.

“I do not want to go to work on that, and then find we have lost revenue we should have captured,” he said. “I would not anticipate that would take a huge number of hours … but that is something that was not considered in any of these estimates, it was all based on prior issues and this is a totally new issue.”

According to Internal Services Director Keith Cordrey, cases can be identified and prioritized by their expiration dates.

“From my perspective, that is important because we don’t want to cost the city money while we are trying to save the city money …,” Council President Jake Day said.

Councilwoman Laura Mitchell had a number of issues with the projected amount of attorney fees, such as duplication in services, the amount of “back and forth” between the attorney’s office with staff and council members and the delay in billing from the attorney’s office, which is needed to come up with a projection be appropriated in the future.

 “A budget amendment takes four votes and I don’t want to vote for this at all,” she said. “I am very upset I am in this situation but if I don’t we have no legal services for the city and everything stops …”

Councilwoman Shanie Shields opposed the move, saying, “As members of the council we are supposed to do our due diligence to watch how we spend the legal fees. We need to stay on top of it.”

Council President Jacob Day understood Mitchells concerns, saying, “To me this is an extraordinary tightening of the belt and we have to make sure we are not in this position again,” Day said.

The council voted 4-1, with Shields opposed, to amend the current year’s budget to appropriate additional funds for the city attorney.

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