Natchez aldermen approve tight budget

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, September 15, 2010

NATCHEZ — The Natchez aldermen say they have squeezed their collective belt as tightly as possible for the 2010-2011 budget year.

The budget for fiscal year 2010-2011 was unanimously approved at Tuesday’s aldermen meeting.

The budget calls for expected revenues, including fund balances on Oct. 1, to be $32,218,639. The budget also projects total expenditures to be $27,674,903, leaving fund balances totaling $4,543,736 at the end of the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

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Revenues and expenditures are divided among the general fund, special revenue fund, debt service fund, capital projects fund and internal service fund.

Ad valorem taxes for the fiscal year will be levied at a millage rate of 42.732 mills, the same as last year.

A mill is valued at $113,000 this year.

Alderman Dan Dillard said some funds have been cut to near the minimum, but he is proud of the budget the board put together.

“Maybe we have cut all the fat, and now we are having to cut at the muscle,” Dillard said.

Alderman Mark Fortenbery said money-saving efforts had to happen citywide and said the public works department was one good example of that.

Fortenbery said the department requested 5 percent raises for some employees and $100,000 in new equipment during budget discussions, but both requests were denied. He said, despite that, the department turned in a budget with approximately $50,000 in savings.

Susan Cassagne, director of the Armstrong Library, addressed the board about funding cuts her organization received for the upcoming fiscal year and the previous fiscal year.

The library’s millage rate was reduced from 2.575 mills in 2008 to 2.2 mills in 2009 and 2.25 mills in 2010.

The millage changes reflect the board’s attempts to maintain the library’s funding at approximately $255,000.

Cassagne said with a dedicated millage set up, she understood the library would maintain that millage rate.

Holloway said the board has the authority to change the millage rate during budgeting and elected to do that last year because of the state-mandated property reassessment.

Alderman Bob Pollard said he believed the misunderstanding stemmed from terminology used by Cassagne and Holloway.

Pollard said when Holloway said the library would maintain the same level of funding he was referring to dollars while Cassagne was referring to millage rate.

“When I was told ‘You are getting the same,’ I inferred that to mean the same millage,” Cassagne said.

She said she was never notified of the millage rate change last year and was therefore operating on a higher budget than the city is going to allocate funds.

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said while the library is an important service to the city, other services, like police and fire departments have to be funded.

Mathis said when the library moved from allocated funds to millage funds, she was under the impression that the library was only going to receive the amount of money it has previously received.

Mathis said when next year’s budgeting process begins, she would like to see the library return to a allocation-funded organization to eliminate miscommunications on funding.

Cassagne said the monies collected from a millage are not taken away from other city entities, but are set aside especially for the library.

The board voted unanimously to adopt a resolution setting the library’s millage at 2.25 mills of funding for the fiscal year.

The resolution also included 22.534 mills for the general fund, 6.402 mills for bonds and interest retirement funds, 2 mills for parks and recreation, 7.412 for an old fireman and policeman’s relief and disability fund, 1.250 mills for capital improvements and .884 mills for the new Natchez-Adams County economic development authority, Natchez Inc.

In July the board unanimously approved a $650,000 sales tax anticipation loan. At that time, City Clerk Donnie Holloway said the loan was needed to cover payroll and insurance expenses through December.

However, that loan has not been utilized yet for the current fiscal year, Dillard said.

“If the city can make it until October, that will be the first time in 10 years the city administration has not had to do that,” Dillard said.

Holloway said a little luck has been on the side of Natchez when it comes to recent income.

“We’ve just been lucky with our income,” Holloway said. “We’ve had stuff come in at this time that (we weren’t expecting.)

Holloway said sales tax revenue that will be collected today will be used to cover city bills, but won’t impact whether or not the city will have to utilize the tax anticipation loan.

“We still have to hold our breath,” he said.