CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In a brief meeting Thursday evening, Charleston City Council members approved the city's proposed $87.3 million city budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Passage of the measure closes a relatively quiet budget-making season, with no disputes over pay raises, no protests from firefighters and no questions about contributions to community groups.
However, during roll call of the budget's passage, City Councilman Cubert Smith voted to abstain and that sparked a heated exchange with Mayor Danny Jones.
"What's your conflict? You have to have a conflict to abstain," Jones said. "We don't come here to just not vote."
Following the meeting, Smith, a noted artist and teacher, said he disagreed with the council's budgeted plan to hire a public art director because he said the position lacked required qualifications and details beyond a recommended salary.
Jones refused to let Smith abstain and ruled him out of order. Jones asked that it be put on record that Smith refused to vote.
"Put it in the record that he doesn't vote for me," Smith said. "I vote for myself."
City Council President Tom Lane later talked to Smith and reporters about the public arts director position. Lane said council members set aside $60,000 to hire a public arts director in the future. That person would be paid anywhere between $47,000 and $60,000, Lane said. The position was created in response to a 2011 report from the National Endowment for the Arts that said Charleston needs a professional to oversee and build its collection of public art.
Lane said the position's details and the person who would be hired would be hashed out later. Smith said he does not want the job.
In this year's budget, the city's 760-plus employees won't be getting raises this year. They received special 3 percent across-the-board pay hikes last October to break a several-year salary freeze (not counting seniority raises).
The new budget does not reflect Mayor Jones' proposal to add a 0.5 percent retail sales tax. The city cannot impose a sales tax without permission from the state Municipal Home Rule Board.
But the sales tax plan is still in the works, City Manager David Molgaard has said. City Council plans to hold a public hearing on the issue April 1.