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Natchez aldermen approve raises for some public works employees through end of fiscal year

NATCHEZ — Natchez aldermen recently approved raises for approximately 17 public works employees, but not without concerns from one alderwoman regarding the future source of funding for the salaries.

Public Works Supervisor Justin Dollar proposed the raises at a recent aldermen meeting, saying public works had approximately $30,000 in its budget to cover the raises for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The raises, which officials characterized as “salary adjustments,” range from approximately 50 cents to $1.50 per hour and will cost approximately $15,000 to fund through the end of the fiscal year, Dollar said Thursday.

Dollar said the “adjustments” are an effort to lessen turnover at public works and attract future employees.

The department, Dollar said, has been burdened with turnover and a lack of interest in open positions because of pay that is not competitive with other local government jobs, including positions at the Adams County road department and sheriff’s office.

“A lot of times when we put out (job advertisements), we won’t receive any applications or inquiries about jobs,” Dollar told the aldermen.

Dollar said he contacted the road department and MDOT to review job descriptions and get information about salaries, so public works could adjust salaries for some of its employees to be more in line with the other departments.

The raises, Dollar said, are for positions that require special skills or certification, including employees having a commercial driver’s license, mechanics and heavy equipment operators.

Dollar said the raises through the fiscal year end would be funded using one-time reimbursement funds from the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Urban Youth Corps program the city participated in last fiscal year.

The $30,000 reimbursement was issued several months after the conclusion of the summer program and was received by the city this in the current fiscal year although expenses for the summer program were paid during the last fiscal year.

The funds are not restricted, Community Development Director James Johnston said, and the city could spend the reimbursement funds at its discretion.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis raised concerns at the meeting about approving raises without identifying from where the funds would come next fiscal year.

Arceneaux-Mathis said since the Urban Youth Corps program was not funded by MDOT this year, the city would not have the funds coming again.

Arceneaux-Mathis said she is concerned that once the city gives raises, it cannot taken them back, even if it no longer has the funds.

“If we don’t have those funds in September, what do we do?” she said.

The aldermen are permitted, however, to include pay cuts in the budget, if they deem it necessary.

Dollar said his intention is to fund the raises with the reimbursement money through the end of the fiscal year, then include money for the increased salaries in next year’s public works budget.

Arceneaux-Mathis attempted to amend the original motion to defer the action until after the aldermen have an upcoming meeting with the accounting firm that has conducted a forensic audit of the city’s finances. The amendment died for lack of a second.

Mayor Darryl Grennell said if the city determines it does not have the money in its budget for the next fiscal year, the aldermen could look at a millage increase or Dollar would “have to be creative” in reconfiguring his budget to accommodate the raises.

The motion to approve the “salary adjustments” passed 5-1, with Arceneaux-Mathis voting against it.