City considering raising salaries and raising taxesPublished 12:06am Thursday, August 30, 2012
Editor’s note: The original version of this story misstated the amount of money City Engineer David Gardner requested to employ former public works director Richard Burke to complete the city’s street inventory. Gardner also did not request Burke train Public Works Supervisor Justin Dollar.
NATCHEZ — Increasing salaries for elected officials, police officers, firefighters and public works employees and raising taxes were just a few ideas the Natchez Board of Aldermen discussed at its budget meeting Wednesday.
The Natchez Board of Aldermen discussed an approximately $12.8 million budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year that included a $300,000-$500,000 increase from the current fiscal year.
The increase, Mayor Butch Brown said after the meeting, would be mainly attributed to raises.
Three years ago, the aldermen voted to cut their own salaries along with those of the mayor, city clerk and municipal judge.
Now, the city can afford to reinstate those cuts, raising their own salaries, Brown said.
The aldermen agreed and the salaries will be reinstated to their former amount beginning Oct. 1.
Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery expressed that he may not want to increase his own salary but would not object to the other increases.
Brown said he believes that financial recovery is in place, and he said the $255,000 surplus the city will have at the end of the fiscal year will offset the cost of the reinstatement of salaries and raises to employees.
Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said the salary cuts were made during a year when the city had to borrow almost $2 million to get by and cut 14 employees.
Brown said he understood why the cuts were made and said the problem has worked itself out.
“We can afford to reinstate salaries, and we ought to,” Brown said.
Brown said he did not think the salaries should have been cut in the first place and raised the question of whether the board had the power to cut the salaries of other elected officials.
“I know they can cut their own, but I’m not sure they have the power to cut the city clerk’s and judge’s salaries,” he said.
That decision was made three years ago, but City Attorney Hyde Carby said he would look into whether the board had the power to do that.
The aldermen’s salaries will be approximately $22,000, except for Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis’ salary. Mathis’ and Brown’s salaries are legislatively limited because of their state retirement. Mathis’ salary will stay at approximately $18,000, and Brown’s at approximately $32,000. Holloway said his salary will be $50,300 and Blough’s approximately $52,000-53,000.
Police and fire
The aldermen agreed to a 5-percent raise for sworn police officers and discussed cutting the officers’ 12-hour shifts down to eight-hour shifts.
Ward 2 Alderman Rickey Gray said when the shifts were previously increased from eight hours to 12 hours, 90 percent of the officers said they wanted the increase. Gray said the 12-hour shifts allow the officers more time off so they can get a second job.
Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith noted that the officers’ overtime pay was high and that the officers probably depend on that as part of their salaries.
Brown said he did not think that if the city gave the officers raises, it would not be impractical to cut the shifts down to eight hours.
Dillard and other aldermen noted that the advantage of eight-hour shifts would mean there would be more officers on the street because of scheduling. The aldermen also said shorter shifts would mean more alert officers.
Brown and the aldermen agreed that it was important to get the police officers’ salaries comparable to other cities, especially because of the high turnover rate at the police department, so the officers would not have to get second jobs.
Holloway suggested the city research what other cities its size paid police officers, and Mathis asked him to do that.
The police department’s budget proposal included two new officers, but the aldermen discussed keeping the size of the department the same. NPD currently has 44 officers, but the city budgets for 47.
Natchez Housing Authority Director Alan Ingram told the aldermen in June that he was not sure the authority would be able to provide the $60,000 it usually does for the salaries of two Natchez police officers, but Brown said Ingram informed him this week that NHA believes it will be able to provide $40,000.
Natchez Fire Chief Oliver Stewart’s proposed budget did not include raises for the firefighters, but Mathis, who is head of the fire committee, said the firefighters deserved raises.
It would cost approximately $100,000-$110,000 for a 5-percent raise for firefighters.
Brown said the city would calculate the figures for police and fire raises and finalize the raises at a later budget meeting.
Natchez Public Works
The public works budget included a $160,000 increase 5-percent raise for employees who have not had raises in the last year or so. Brown said after the meeting the raises will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
The budget also proposed hiring two new employees, purchasing new equipment including a newer dump truck and a pickup truck.
Brown said public works has paid off the street sweeper, so the $27,000 per year note on that will retire with the end of this fiscal year, which he said will allow the department to purchase a new pickup truck.
Brown said he has already instructed Public Works Supervisor Justin Dollar to get estimates on a new truck.
City Engineer, David Gardner, requested $2,400 to employ former public works director Richard Burke to do the city’s street inventory. Gardner said Thursday the $2,400 will pay Burke $12.50 per hour for approximately two weeks to ride and assess the streets with a staff member. Remaining funds in that budget line item will be used to gradually update the street inventory program on an as-needed basis throughout the remaining year, Gardner said.
Brown also requested that Burke train Dollar, who was recently hired as head of public works.
The aldermen requested that the money for Burke’s services be put in public works’ budget instead of the engineering department’s budget to make sure they had oversight of the money.
Brown mentioned the possibility of a tax increase at the end of the budget meeting, but the aldermen did not discuss it in great detail.
Brown said after the meeting raising taxes is a possibility but would be carefully considered before any decisions are made at forthcoming budget meetings.
Other news from the meeting:
• The board met in executive session for approximately 10 minutes to discuss a personnel matter in the city clerk’s office.
• The aldermen added $50,000 to the budget in anticipation of hiring an accountant for the city clerk’s office.
The aldermen are scheduled to adopt a budget at their Sept. 11 meeting.