City Eyes $26K Transfer To Cover Legal Overage

SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council voted this week preliminarily to transfer an additional $26,000 into the city’s legal fund to cover attorney expenses.

Keith Cordrey, director of Internal Services, explained to the city Monday that it has become apparent the funding originally set aside to cover legal expenses will come up short this year.

“Projections indicate that an increase of $26,000 is needed in the FY13 appropriations for the city attorney in order to meet the projected requirements for the legal fees for the remainder of FY2013,” he said.

The year-end total for attorney fees comes to about $225,000, added Cordrey. Each month averaged $20,029 for the nine months reviewed. The $26,000 would be enough to cover any spill over beyond the established budget and would set aside $4,740 to cover legal fees through June until the new fiscal year starts July 1.

Designating less than $5,000 for the month of June considering the averages was pragmatic, said Council President Jake Day.

“So that’s all that we would be allowing to be spent for all of the remainder of the fiscal year,” he said. “And with an average of $20,000 that’s a significant reduction in our legal expenses for the month of June … I think what we’re funding through this action, not only recognizing that we’ve gone over budget, but I think we’re funding the bare minimum we can expect to continue to operate and function as a city through June.”

The council was split on the state of the legal fees.

“I just want to say that I don’t see anything out of the ordinary … pretty common to what we’ve seen every month since we’ve had an attorney, which would mean ever,” said Councilman Tim Spies.

Councilwoman Shanie Shields was more hesitant to approve adding $26,000 to the fund. Her impression was that only the $4,740 that will cover June was needed to balance the account. Day explained that the $4,740 would only be for June and that the remaining nearly $22,000 had to be added to cover the city for legal help it has already used.

“The work has already been done … We’ve already been over-budget,” said Day. “We’ve already used those services.”

Any bills that have been accumulated need to be cleared, said Councilwoman Laura Mitchell. But like Shields, she was unhappy with having to put more money into the fund. Additionally, Mitchell was unhappy with how long it took for the city to actually review their bills to learn that they were over budget. Bills for the most recent months were submitted just Monday hours before their meeting, she reminded the council.

“That’s not enough time to review … certainly we should have had these bills to review before we went over budget, before we already had expended the money and now it’s a bill that we owe,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, we have to pay the bills for the services that we’ve used in the amounts that have incurred but this shouldn’t have happened, period.”

Shields added that she has yet to properly review the bills and wasn’t comfortable paying for anything that she has not carefully gone over.

“You do not pay bills unless you see the bills. And I have not seen the attorney bills,” she said.

Councilwoman Terry Cohen did not comment on the punctuality of the bills but did side with Spies in saying that nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

“There’s items in there where [City Attorney Mark Tilghman] has been addressing issues that have been going on with the city for 14 years so I’m not surprised to see certain additional things on there,” she said. “And there were political things that he was put in the middle of which would increase his attorney fees. Like Mr. Spies, I looked at the bills and we might want to do some things differently in the future but it wasn’t because the attorney did something wrong.”

Some of the costs included in the fees were unexpected, admitted Day, but they were all clearly explained.

“It’s clear that there were several specific items that led to greater than expected, greater than anticipated expenses over the last few months,” he said, “and he anticipated those being significantly reduced in the coming months.”

Things like the recent city election and filling the fire chief position were a few of the costs that ballooned this fiscal year.

Whatever one’s opinion, Cohen pointed out that if no funding is added to the legal account the city will not be covered by an attorney through June.

“I mean, otherwise we go without attorney services for the protection of the city,” she said.

Because adding money to the fund would be a budget amendment, it required a 4-1 vote to advance to a second reading. Initially, both Shields and Mitchell opposed the amendment. However, Mitchell changed her vote so that the measure could at least advance to second reading where it will again be voted on. She explained that she will be reviewing the bills between this week and the second reading Monday and will make her final decision then.