Helena-West Helena Mayor Arnell Willis has vowed to rectify the financial crisis that has developed in the city. The Helena-West Helena City Council met in regular session on Tuesday night and the mayor presented his new plan to get the city back on the right track. The new plan calls for the termination of as many as twenty employees, immediately. Willis had previously asked the City Council to approve a $10.00 increase, per customer, on sanitation fees as well as a $5.00 per year vehicle license fee for all motor vehicles registered within the city limits. That request did not seem to gain any support and was replaced by the new plan.
During the meeting, Willis was repeatedly asked to discuss some of the administration's spending during his fifteen month term as mayor. Willis continued to point the blame at the previous administration for the finacial difficulty. At one point, Alderman Monica Davis asked "how do you hire someone in one month and then fire them in the next month." Davis was referring to the fact that the Parks and Recreation Department requested additional employees only a few weeks ago. Those employees may now be terminated due to the current financial strain.
The issue that the City Council is grappling with seems to swirl around the glowing financial reports presented by the Willis Administration over the last twelve months. Those reports indicated that the city had reduced its debt by over one million dollars. However, last weeks meeting revealed that the city had suffered financial losses in two of the past three months. That information was never reported to the council until after February. The situation has only been aggravated by the fact that the Mayor fought an eleven month battle for a pay raise attempting to veto every budget presented to him in 2011 that didn't include a pay raise for himself and others. The mayor most recently gave a deciding vote to increase the pay of to two department heads at a rate of $7,500.00, each. He also paid out $6,000.00 in attorney's fees, without council approval, only days after last Tuesday's special session where he requested citizens to pay the increase in sanitation fees.
Willis sought council approval of the plan to terminate the twenty employees but no approval was given. Willis, however, vowed to go ahead with the plan anyway. He stated that "doing nothing" was not an option. Mayor Willis does not claim to be the creator of the fiancial woes but the city's financial records say otherwise.