Supervisors discuss raises for port employees, debt

Published 12:07 am Tuesday, September 19, 2017

By Cain Madden

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — The Natchez-Adams County Port director submitted Monday a balanced budget, but noted that revenues were projected to decrease approximately $277,000 this upcoming year.

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The Adams County Board of Supervisors took no action on the budget because County Administrator Joe Murray and some board members still had some questions for port commissioners, who were not present at Monday’s meeting.

Port Director Anthony Hauer said he attributed to the projected loss in revenue to a downturn in the oil business. Hauer said heavy rains over the summer hurt the tonnage of grain shipped by barge, but that number was looking to even out or go above projection by the end of the month.

Hauer said the port would lose approximately $100,000 in storage fees. Hauer attributed the loss to one client ceasing activity and possibly moving to another avenue of shipping. Hauer did not name the client.

Total revenues for the port were projected at $2,361,700, compared to $2,638,870 last year.

Expenditures last year were $2,369,336 and the port by the end of the month is projecting a profit of $269,534. This year, the budget would be cut down to match revenues at $2,361,700.

“The budget you have in front of you is a guide,” Hauer said. “There is no guarantee one way or another we will succeed, exceed or fall short. It is based on the market and trends of our customers.”

Of expenditures, District 2 Supervisor David Carter said he was happy to see the port giving up its $115,000 maintenance service contract and hiring a mechanic.

Hauer said the salary for the mechanic plus fringe benefits would be approximately $62,000.

Board President Mike Lazarus in 2015 had suggested the port and county share mechanic resources after he saw two invoices for mechanical work and trucking services, for a combined $48,400.

Carter asked if more port expenses could potentially be cut, since while money was moved around in different accounts, only $7,636 was cut.

Hauer said commissioners cut the budget as much as they could to get it to the break-even point.

District 3 Alderwoman Angela Hutchins asked about a $35,000 increase in salaries.

Hauer said that increase represents what a 3.5-percent cost of living increase for port employees would look like. However, Hauer said employees might not receive the raise.

“I feel at this time, at the commissioners’ discretion, it may not happen,” Hauer said.

Over the last several years, the port has given employees some form of a raise. Last year, a 5-percent raise was approved and the year before that 10 percent.

Murray asked about a debt set to retire this year on a T-dock. The port and county entered into a gentleman’s agreement in 1997 on the $3 million in debt the county took out to make improvements at the port.

The agreement did not obligate the port to pay a specific amount per year, but rather the port would make payments when economics times were good.

Over at least the last two years, the port has made annual $100,000 payments. Murray said the county budgeted for receiving the $100,000.

Hauer said the commission as of Monday had not committed to making a payment.

Lazarus said the debt is expiring and a new agreement would have to be put in place.

“We can have the same agreement we have now where you pay what you can when you can, but we still have to sit down and make an agreement,” Lazarus said.

With questions about the $100,000 debt and potential raises for port employees hanging, supervisors decided to table approving the budget until the board could question port commissioners.

Lazarus said tentatively the meeting would be scheduled at 9 a.m. for either Friday or Monday, but the meeting could be delayed further. The port’s budget has to be approved before October.