Tax, fee increase for Wesson

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, September 5, 2001

WESSON — Aldermen shook or held their heads Tuesday night asthey faced the tough decision to raise the town’s millage by 2.53mills, its water and sewage fees by eight percent and the garbagerates by 20 cents, but in the end Wesson will see all threeraises.

It would surprise many, however, to learn that the only commentsheard from the audience of about 10 residents were all positiveabout the raises.

“We’re talking about meeting the basic needs of the town,” saidMayor Bill Tigner. “There is nothing frivolous in there. We’remeeting the needs, nothing more. If you’ll look, there’s verylittle increase from last year’s budget.”

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The town will end the 2001 budget year Sept. 30 with a positivebalance, or in the black, but only because it was able to carryover $47,000 from the 2000 budget. The 2000 and 1999 budgets werealso saved by carry over funds from previous budgets.

“That cash reserve is the only reason we have finished in theblack the last few years,” he said. “That reserve will be goneafter this next year if we continue.”

“Every year we’ve dodged the (tax) bullet, but we’ve been goingfurther and further down,” said Ward 1 Alderman Robert Derrick.

Derrick, a three term member of the board, said taxes had notbeen raised for at least as long as he had been there.

A 10 percent ad valorem tax increase will only provide apositive $4,400 to the end of the 2002 budget, before the remaining2001 carry over of $12,000 is applied, and even that positivefigure is in danger.

While the board was scrutinizing each department for additionalmoney that could be saved, Police Chief Jim Dykes pointed out apossible error in his department’s budget. The department’s budgetwas based on expenditures this year.

Dykes said the figures allocated to his department did not takeinto account that he had been short a full-time officer for sevenmonths of the year. This would increase costs because of higherwages for a certified officer and benefits. The $100,000 dollars hewas allocated in salaries needed to be increased to $112,000, hesaid.

The mayor told Dykes to present him with detailed salary andbenefits information for all officers on Wednesday, and “they wouldtry to toss some figures around and shake out some results.” Tignerwasn’t hopeful of being able to come up with all of the money.

Before the budget hearing, the board had approved fee raises inboth water/sewage and garbage.

Tigner informed the board that for the past three years thewater and sewage fees had not met expenses and approximately $5,000had to be diverted from the General Fund to cover those costs.

“Although there is nothing legally wrong with this,” Tignersaid, “the water and sewage fund was set up to run on its own. But,we have a legal responsibility as a board to make our waterself-sufficient. And we’re not doing it.”

This shortfall in the water and sewage fund was contributing tothe board not being able to meet its expenses at the end of theyear, the mayor said.

“A lot of towns, even by ordinance, have it set where the waterrate increases a certain percentage each year,” Tigner said.

He told the board he was not suggesting that, but a rateincrease was needed to get the fund to pay for itself and ease thepressure on the General Fund. An eight percent increase in waterand sewage fees would do that, he said.

“It’s very small to the average user, but to the town it gets usback into the black,” Tigner said.

The board voted to approve Tigner’s recommendation and addedthat it would be effective immediately to help lower September’slosses.

Immediately following the board’s action on the water and sewagefees, Tigner told them he had received a letter from WasteManagement informing him they were going to exercise their optionunder contract to increase garbage fees by three percent for thenew fiscal year.

The mayor said he had called the company and told them he wantedto exercise his option of canceling the contract with a 90-daynotice, and that they would be rebid. However, Waste Managementtold him he could not do so. Tigner said he would have the boardattorney look into the matter.

Alderman-At-Large David Douglas pointed out that a three percentincrease was equal to 20 cents.

Rather than going through the trouble of consulting lawyers andpossibly rebidding the contract, Douglas said, “I think we can allafford 20 cents.”

The raise was approved when brought to a vote.

In other matters, Tigner told the board that Oak Street wasclosed Tuesday because recent rains had washed it out and made itdangerous to travel. He had already requested and receivedpermission from the county to pursue bids under an emergencyprovision and was waiting for those bids.

A concrete “wing” used to divert water around a corner and intoa culvert had been destroyed and the water had battered theroadway, Tigner said. He estimated the cost of repairing the roadand installing a new “wing” at approximately $8,000.

The board approved the emergency bid in advance provided it wasclose to the stated figure.

The board will meet in City Hall Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. to adopt thefinalized budget. The meeting is open to the public.