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Natchez aldermen feel city budget is rushed

NATCHEZ The City of Natchez is scheduled to adopt its budget for the upcoming fiscal year Tuesday, a decision for which a couple of aldermen say they do not feel fully prepared.

The city had a public hearing for the 2013-2014 budget Monday, but Ward 5 Mark Fortenbery said he was surprised to see the hearing was publicly advertised before the aldermen had a chance to call a work session during which all of the aldermen could discuss the budget.

City officials met in a series of budget meetings over the past few weeks, but not all of the aldermen were able to attend because of their regular jobs.

“I know it’s hard to get all of us together, but usually we do have a work session before (the budget hearing) is advertised,” Fortenbery said. “I understand the mayor and the city clerk have to have the budget meetings, and we’re all aware of them, and it’s tough to make them all, but maybe we need to work a little bit better so that we can (all attend).”

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith said she agreed.

“It just seems uniformly we’re not as prepared (as we were last year),” she said.

Smith said she did not receive a revised budget until shortly before the hearing and did not have time to review it.

Mayor Butch Brown said he — and everyone else at the meeting — was surprised when Holloway presented a budget that was $3 million more than what was publicly advertised.

The city advertised a $34 million budget, but Holloway presented a $37 million budget at the hearing.

Holloway said that when the budget was calculated for the public advertisement, debt payments were not included in the calculation.

“We don’t know what happened, but when it was calculated up, it didn’t include bond payments,” he said.

Even though the city’s budget will likely end up being $37 million, Brown said he recommends the board of aldermen adopt the budget as it was advertised and amend it at a later date.

Smith said she feels like the budgeting process this year has been rushed.

“I would like to see it more spread out and (the meetings) at more convenient times (for the aldermen),” she said.

Smith said in the future, she would like to have time to meet with all the department heads about their budgets.

“Maybe we could have one work session where all of the department heads can attend and all of the aldermen, so we can get everyone’s questions answered … or maybe spread that out over a couple of meetings, and half the department heads attend one meeting and the other half another.”

Smith said she would also like time to discuss cost-cutting measures with the department heads.

“It would be nice if the board could talk (to the department heads) about cost-cutting and maybe cutting back 10 or 15 percent on expenses,” she said.

The aldermen will meet Tuesday in the Natchez City Council Chambers, with the finance session beginning at 4:30 p.m. and the regular meeting at 6 p.m.