Aldermen close to deal on raises for city police officers, firefighters

Published 12:26 am Wednesday, September 13, 2017


NATCHEZ — Five of six Natchez aldermen expressed Tuesday a desire to approve a 7-percent raise for city police officers and firefighters.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith was the lone board member to say “no,” instead wanting to approve a 5-percent raise for this coming fiscal year in hopes of later approving an additional 5-percent for the following fiscal year.

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The 7-percent raise would align with Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell’s recommendation to the aldermen.

CPA Wallace Collins projected the city would end the 2017-2018 fiscal year with approximately $226,000 in the cash reserves between the general fund and casino annual lease fund. That projection assumes a 4-mill tax increase and a 7-percent raise for police and fire.

Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier, who serves as the board’s police committee chair, said he would prefer a 10-percent raise across the board, but because that was not feasible he opted for the 7-percent raise.

“This 7 (-percent raise) needs to be done today,” Frazier said. “We don’t need to wait around. We need to take action.”

The difference between a 5- or 7-percent raise is approximately $80,000 including benefits, Collins said.

Smith said the city should first consider the possibility of an interlocal agreement between the city and county that could save money. The agreement concerns whether the Adams County Sheriff’s Office could intake city inmates and whether that would save the city money.

Smith said if that agreement eventually did come to fruition, the city could possibly double the raises for police officers and firefighters down the road.

“If we could really do this and save  $200,000 (or so), we might be able to give them another 5-percent (raise).”

Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong said the city jail has a capacity of 60, but only averages approximately eight inmates on any given day.

Regarding the proposed deal, Grennell said the county would charge $25 daily per inmate housed. Based on the 1,171 inmates housed last year, that would lead to a cost of $29,000, Armstrong said.

Armstrong said the jail has a staff of approximately 10 employees, whose wages and salaries total approximately $250,000 a year. Including food and medical, another approximately $126,000 went toward the jail over the past two years, Armstrong said.

But Armstrong said he does not want the possible interlocal agreement to affect the aldermen’s decision.

“I want (this) to be used on the back end of whatever y’all decide to do,” Armstrong said to the board.

Grennell said the board should wait to see if and when the interlocal agreement occurs before considering how it would affect pay raises.

“I don’t want to get any false hopes up there,” Grennell said.

Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Irving said Natchez Public Works should also be considered for a raise down the road, though she acknowledged that is not feasible at this point in time.

While discussing the probable raises for police officers and firefighters, the aldermen also discussed the need to maintain or cut spending in other areas.

Bringing up specific areas to examine, Smith said the city must make cuts to counteract the additional costs of the pay raises. One example is travel expenses, which Smith said raised from $18,000 last year to $40,000 in 2016-2017.

Frazier said the aldermen were “getting into dangerous ground” when discussing cuts in certain departments.

“I could start naming some departments where some secretaries need cutting and a lot more people need cutting,” Frazier said. “I have a problem with other people that are sitting in the office making more than policemen. I have a big problem with that.”

Dillard motioned specifically for three departments — the city’s legislative department, the mayor’s fund and the city attorney and staff’s fund — to cap spending at the same amount as 2016-2017. Those expenses total approximately $555,000 based on current projections.

Another city department discussed was Information Technologies (IT), which Dillard said is projected to increase spending by approximately 25 percent in the coming fiscal year.

Interim City Clerk Megan Edmonds said she had asked IT Director Bridget Chappell to make cuts where possible, though Edmonds noted the IT department’s budget is contingent upon the needs of every other city department.

Edmonds said she would reach out to Chappell again to request cuts on items that wait for another year.

The final 2017-2018 is scheduled to be approved at a public hearing scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday in the City Council Chambers building. Edmonds said the proposed budget would be made available after the aldermen have had a chance to review the final product, which she hopes will happen either today or Thursday.

Edmonds said a 2-page consolidated budget would be offered to the public for free, while the full, more-than-40-page budget sheet would likely cost a fee per the city’s public records request policy.

The consolidated budget will be available to those who attend Friday’s public hearing, Edmonds said.