By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
With little fanfare, the Hope City Board approved $125 Christmas bonuses for its 126 employees, which will cost the taxpayers approximately $16,000. The City of Hope has a tradition of holiday bonuses over the years, which Mayor Steve Montgomery recalled “Used to be $50 and a ham or turkey.”
Over the past three years, the amount has risen modestly but has held at $100. Director Mark Ross suggested the amended amount, increased by $25, to ensure taxes were covered and “that city employees really got $100,” he said afterwards.
Ross, however, was much more concerned about an episode with a City of Hope police car, apparently used by Assistant Chief Kim Tomlin, but totaled in a recent car accident. While no one was injured, the resulting event has been that Tomlin has used a personal car in the interim.
Ross said he didn’t understand why Tomlin wasn’t using one of the spare patrol cars in the police department’s fleet, and he questioned liability issues as well as logistical ones, if Tomlin was involved in a police matter, such as a hostage situation or chase.
Neither Police Chief JR Wilson nor Tomlin herself were present Tuesday night, leaving Lt. Jimmy Courtney to field Ross’s questions.
Courtney said that if need be Tomlin would likely respond to an emergency or crisis call by riding with another officer in a standard patrol car or detective’s vehicle, although at the same time, he said that in Tomlin’s administrative position, she would likely not be directly involved in any high speed chases or situations where her personal car would be used for police work.
The issue came up as the Hope City Board was considering purchasing options for a replacement car for Tomlin. Taking advantage of a special low-mileage used car search program offered by Hope Auto, the City of Hope could waive the normal bid procedure and purchase a lightly used car at a heavy discount.
The accident itself was described by City Manager Catherine Cook as being settled in the amount of $20,000 by insurance, which included the totaled vehicle and police equipment inside. She said that a replacement used car, identified as a Chevy Impala, could be obtained through the Hope Auto program for a heavy discount, and with the insurance funds, would not cost the City of Hope any extra.
Courtney, who drives a similar car purchased as a special used automobile acquisition through the Hope Auto program, said his vehicle has performed well and it was a good value for the city.
In February 2016, using the same Hope Auto used search program, the City of Hope reportedly was able to purchase two Impalas for $32,000, and back then, the City also waived normal bid procedures and invoked an “emergency clause.”
As the discussion unfolded Tuesday night, the current Hope City Board approved the purchase of a replacement car for Tomlin under the same program, again waiving the conventional bid procedures. In a rare non-unanimous vote, however, Ross voted against both the purchase and the bid waiver.
Cook said that brand new police patrol fleet cars typically cost thousands more and are normally purchased through the bid process.
Other than publicly stating that the accident “was not the officer’s fault,” and “no one was injured,” the exact nature and circumstances of wrecked police car were not disclosed Tuesday.
In other Hope City Board news, the board heard a report from Josh Williams, a spokesman for the Hempstead County Bicentennial Committee on the activities for actual birthday celebration slated for Saturday, December 15. Williams said a series of speakers will open the day at Hempstead Hall at 10 a.m. including Mack McLarty, Joe Purvis, Ellen Turner,and Lavenski Smith.
Williams then confirmed the Bicentennial Parade set for 1 p.m. and set to travel from the old Courthouse on S. Washington to the new one in downtown Hope, and he talked about a downtown block party happening between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. along with a fireworks show after dark to cap the day’s events.
Although the Hempstead Quorum Court had already passed the property tax levy last week, the City of Hope had to go through the formality of passing its own version of the ordinance. The rate at five mills for the City of Hope was identical to last year as was the local fireman’s pension fund at 1 mill. Both ordinances were approved.
Although the City of Hope mills stayed the same for 2019, the Hope City board actually approved a hike last year, jumping from 4.2 mills to the maximum state-allowed 5 mills.
Cook did not have an exact estimate of the revenue increase the mill hike brought in over the past year. Next month on December 10, however, the Board will review its upcoming 2019 budget.
Last year, the City of Hope listed budgeted revenue of $10.7 million for 2018, which reflected a then-8.9 percent increase over 2017. But its General Fund budgeted expenses, which showed $9.7 million budgeted for 2017, also jumped to $10.7 million budgeted for 2018.
By Rick Kennedy, managing editor