City budget due Oct. 1, aldermen question process

Published 12:05 am Friday, July 24, 2015

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Board of Aldermen is preparing to review the proposed 2015-2016 fiscal year budget.

And while the board has not seen the proposed budget yet, three aldermen say they already know of a problem with it.

“I think we go about it with the wrong approach,” Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said of the city’s budgeting process.

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A little more than two months remain until the 2015-2016 Natchez fiscal year budget is due.

Last year, the city missed its Oct. 1, state-mandated budget deadline by 14 days. However, Assistant City Clerk Wendy McClain said she expects this year’s budget would be approved on time.

“We have already sent the budget worksheets to the department heads so they can put in their requests for the new year,” McClain said.

Sending out the worksheets, which are due to the city clerk office today, is the first step in the budgeting process, McClain said.

Natchez City Clerk Donnie Holloway said once all department worksheets are submitted, then he compiles that information and schedules a work session for aldermen to discuss the requests.

These worksheets, Holloway said, include what each department spent during the last fiscal year, what they’ve spent this year so far and what they expect to spend next year.

Once the board meets and approves the budget, Holloway said a public hearing is scheduled so residents can ask questions about increases or decreases in the proposed budget.

“I encourage the public to come to that,” Holloway said. “It’s taxpayer money that’s being spent.”

Last year, the city passed a $36.3 million budget, which was met with some scrutiny from board members.

Dillard said several factors have contributed to the budget’s tardiness — and his disapproval — in years past.

“I would like for the city to first determine its projected revenue, and then adjust the department’s financial needs accordingly,” Dillard said.

However, without a completed audit, Dillard said its difficult for the city to know where it stands with last year’s revenues, which he said would be helpful in determining the next year’s income.

“I’m hoping we will be looking at the audit at the same time we look at the budget,” Dillard said. “But that might not happen for another month.”

McClain said the city clerk’s office would have the audit, which was due June 30, ready for submission to the state auditor today or Monday.

“Some of the items were coded wrong, and they just needed to be moved to the correct place,” McClain said of the 2014-2015 audit. “I think that’s simply because we’ve had so much turnover (in the city clerk office).”

Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux–Mathis said she would also like to see a few things changed in the way the city handles its budgeting process.

Specifically, Arceneaux –Mathis said she would like to see all department heads come before the board in a public setting and express their financial needs.

“I’ve seen them do budgeting like that on television in New Orleans,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “I would like to see us do that here.”

Ward 2 Alderman Rickey Gray echoed Arceneaux-Mathis, and said he would like to see the budgeting process begin by directly talking with department heads.

“We need to start from ground zero and go up from there,” Gray said.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said his primary concern with the 2015-2016 budget is meeting the financial needs of the city, which he said have expanded.

“During budget time, we have to make sure that we can find the money to deal with an ever-increasing amount of money needed to run the city,” Brown said. “We have expanded needs, and costs of doing business continue to grow.”

Brown said he has struggled in the past with convincing the board that the city needs to increase its expenditures to meet city needs.

“The board never seems to want to express any kind of increased rates,” he said.

One department that has expanded its role in the last 12 months is the city’s public works department, which now includes services previously provided by the no longer existing city engineering department.

However, Public Works Supervisor Justin Dollar said he doesn’t anticipate requesting for more money in the 2015-2016 public works budget.

“At this time, I don’t see an increase (in our budget),” Dollar said Wednesday, adding that he has not submitted his department’s preliminary budget request worksheet yet.

Holloway said no dates have been set yet for a public work session for the board to discuss the proposed budget.

And despite past issues with the budget, Brown said he is hopeful this year the board will adopt a budget everyone can agree on.

“We find money, and we’ve been very successful in doing that,” Brown said. “We stretch our dollars a long, long way.”