Sunday focus: How will city, county budgets affect constituents?

Published 12:15 am Saturday, August 31, 2019


NATCHEZ — It’s budget time again, and local governments are preparing budget proposals for the coming fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

The City of Natchez will host a public hearing Wednesday at the City Council Chambers concerning their operating budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

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The budget serves as a guide for how governing authorities plan to allocate and expend their resources for the next 12 months starting Oct. 1.

The Mississippi Code of 1972, which lists statutes that Mississippi municipalities must follow, states that budgets must be adopted and recorded in the minutes of board meetings by Sept. 15.

CPA Wallace Collins said the City of Natchez would host a budget hearing Wednesday while Adams County officials said they would do likewise on Friday, Sept. 13 the following week.

Before Wednesday’s public hearing, below are a few items local residents should know concerning the budget proposal for the City of Natchez.

No tax increase

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said the city’s new budget would not carry a tax increase on the 46.732 mils levied this fiscal year.

However, projected tax collections have increased slightly by approximately $4,500 with the addition of a few new businesses, Grennell said.

Preliminary estimates for the city’s budget project the city would have approximately $38,400,00 in revenues with more than $36,287,000 in expenses.

Collins said the board is still in the budget-planning process and a full estimate for expenses has not been added yet.

“Basically our revenues are the same as they are for this current fiscal year,” Grennell said, adding there would be a noticeable increase in the overall budget as a result of ongoing projects that have received federal or state funding.

“The only change you might notice as far as our budget increasing is from BP money received that is allocated for Emergency Watershed Projects, funding for the 592 Project and of course the TIGER grant for the Natchez Railway,” Grennell said. “Most of that is money from other sources. Nothing else has changed.”

Grennell said apart from annual step-raises awarded to police and firemen, there wouldn’t be any changes in salaries and wages next fiscal year or any significant funding cuts.

Projects and developments

Natchez community development director James Johnston said he anticipates a few developments next fiscal year, including the enhancement of city roads through the North Natchez Drainage Project.

The project is funded through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Infrastructure and Resource Protection and Development Program, also known as Section 592, and requires the city to share 25 percent of the cost.

“The board did approve the North Natchez Drainage Project, and we’ve issued a notice to proceed,” Johnston said, adding he expects contractors to start work in October on Marblestone Road.

The city needed to acquire $750,000 to finish out the project on Marblestone Road, Daisy Street, Inez Street, Brookview Lane, Brown Subdivision and Smith Lane.

In an August meeting, the board approved the remainder of the project and could take out a loan next fiscal year for whatever cost remains after seeking other avenues of funding it.

Johnston said he is also hopeful that the city and county would cooperatively fund improvements to the community pool located near Natchez High School.

The county and city board agreed to split the matching costs for a Land Water Conservation grant that caps out at $175,000 to help fund the improvements.

“We’re optimistic about our pool improvement project — which includes the addition of showers and lockers, heating the pool and adding a cover,” Johnston said.

Johnston said work could soon commence on a $1.5 million energy efficiency project contracted through Schneider Electric last year.

The group plans to replace every city-owned light bulb with LED lights as well as replace the roof and heating and cooling units at the City Council Chambers, Johnston said, and has spent the past several months performing a material assessment and ordering equipment.

County and school district budgets

Adams County Administrator Joe Murray said the Board of Supervisors would also host a public hearing on Friday, Sept. 13 before adopting their budget before the Sept. 15 deadline.

Adams County officials said they would also levy for the same tax rates from the 2018-2019 fiscal year to carry over into the next budget cycle.

However, school taxes would increase slightly over this fiscal year.

Adams County Attorney Scott Slover said the county would levy 65.6 mils, which is the same rate posted last fiscal year.

The Natchez Adams School District would levy 51.18 mils, which is an increase of 0.66 mils from last fiscal year, Slover said.

Natchez Adams School District requested a 4% increase in ad valorem tax effort for funding school operations in the 2019-2020 fiscal year — which is the maximum increase allowed by state law, said Deputy Superintendent Zandra McDonald.

McDonald said the district requested an approximately $318,000 increase for next school year to fund necessities after taking a $400,000 cut in county tax funds in the 2018-2019 school year.

“There are a number of projects that the district has prioritized for completion this year that are necessities,” McDonald said.

McDonald said with additional funding, the district plans to update security cameras on school campuses, install an intercom system and repair and install wheelchair lifts at two schools to ensure they are compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

McDonald said the district also plans to install four modular classrooms at Natchez Early College Academy to provide needed space for the program, make repairs to air conditioners district-wide, and make repairs to gas and water lines at Morgantown.

“The District remains committed to being fiscally responsible,” McDonald said. “However, there are just a number of projects that must be completed to ensure that our students are in safe learning environments.”