Pay, personnel matters top budget work session

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Fees, pay raises and personnel activities highlighted Tuesday’swork session as officials moved toward approval of a new citygeneral fund budget.

By night’s end, aldermen had approved cemetery grave and airporthangar fee increases, a performance-based pay raise plan foremployees and narrowly rejected a small 3 percent pay hike forthemselves. The moves were for budgeting purposes only, as officialaction may not be taken during work sessions.

Following some changes after an earlier work session, the cityis looking at $8.40 million in revenue and $8.73 million inexpenditures for the new year. City Clerk Mike Jinks told aldermenhe had no concerns about the deficit.

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“We have sufficient funds that we can carry the $322,000deficit,” Jinks said, referring to the use of the carryover fundsto balance the budget.

In cemetery matters, the board moved to increase the fee foropening and closing city graves from $150 to $300. The citymaintains 67 acres in several cemeteries.

“We’re way behind on our fees,” said Mayor Bob Massengil,referring to the charges that have not increased in at least 17years.

Massengill visited Natchez recently to review its cemeteryarrangement. He said that city charges $500 for a grave site and$500 for a perpetual care fund.

“There’s nothing paid in for the upkeep of our cemeteries,”Massengill said.

After some discussion, aldermen took no action on the lot chargeor care fund. They said the possibility of privatizing cemeterymaintenance could be explored.

Also, the board OK’d $20 across-the-board hikes in hangar feesat the airport. Current charges for 19 hangars range from $50 amonth to $85 a month.

“We’ve got people standing in line to get hangars. Supply anddemand,” said Alderman at large Les Bumgarner.

Aldermen D.W. Maxwell and Buddy Allen were asked to review thehangar situation to see if fee increases based on hangar size areneeded.

Personnel and pay issues generated much of the discussionTuesday night.

Included in the budget were 3 percent raises for aldermen. Theincrease would take a board member’s pay from $14,016 a year to$14,436 a year.

Citing her review of cities with similar populations, Ward FourAlderwoman Shirley Estes lobbied against the raises. She said aBrookhaven alderman’s pay is in line with or above those of othercities.

“That makes me feel, personally, where we are is sufficient andadequate,” Estes said.

Estes also expressed concerns about citizens’ perception ofservice fee increases combined with pay raises for the board.Although not connected to the general fund, water and sewer andsolid waste fees are slated to increase in October.

Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates, however, said board membersshould take at least a 1 percent raise every year. He alluded tothe need to stay comparable with other communities.

“You’re falling behind and when you ask for a large increase,you’re going to have problems,” Bates said.

Ward Three Alderwoman Mary Wilson agreed.

“I don’t see nothing wrong with it,” said Wilson, mentioningthat other city employees are getting raises.

Pointing out that is no local transportation expense foraldermen and rising gasoline prices, Maxwell said an inflationraise could be justified. He also mentioned the need forcompensation if the city expects to have good officials in electedoffice.

Allen disagreed on one point.

“I don’t feel I deserve a raise just because the price ofgasoline is going up,” Allen said.

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron said pay raises for electedofficials is a “touchy subject.”

Cameron mentioned the board being “crucified by the newspaperand the news media” about eight years ago when aldermen approved 66percent increases for themselves at the start of a newadministration. The last pay raise for board members was threeyears ago.

During a show-of-hands vote, Bumgarner, Cameron, Estes and Allenmoved to leave the pay level the same.

The budget contained no proposal for a raise for the mayor.

In another pay-related move, the board approved Massengill’splan to award pay raises based on performance.

In conjunction with the mayor, department heads would rankemployees as very good, good, fair or poor. An average of 3 percentwas allocated for raises, but some employees could get more andsome less based on performance.

“This is not to set out to punish anybody,” Massengill said.”This is to reward those who are producing for the city.”

Bates objected to the plan.

“We’re going to affect the low-end paid people,” said Bates, whowent on to say the city’s starting pay of $7 an hour was”nothing.”

Other officials rejected Bates’ claims. They speculated that fewother cities start their employees at $7 an hour and also mentionedthe insurance and state retirement Brookhaven workers get.

“With the benefits, what they’re getting is more thansufficient,” Maxwell said.

Aldermen enacted a similar plan for department heads. That plancalls for up to a 3 percent increase for department leaders.

Following consolidation of the city clerk’s office and the taxcollector’s office, Jinks was unsuccessful in lobbying for higherpercentage raises for him and his staff. He had sought about$13,000 to cover the increases in pay and benefits.

Jinks pointed out that even after the raises and the fee thecounty tax office will charge for its services, the city will saveabout $46,000 a year after the city tax office closure. Hementioned his office’s increased work load and said he has no plansto add staff after annexation.

Aldermen did not go along with the plan and ultimately could notagree on a pay raise amount for the city clerk’s office.

“If we get off into this, you’re going to have others knockingon your door,” Bumgarner said.

While some officials acknowledged the need for larger raises,others said they would be hard to justify to other departments andemployees.

“We’re going to be on the hot seat,” Maxwell said.

Left unresolved Tuesday night were specific actions needed tokeep the city’s health insurance premiums level. Jinks said a 25percent increase in premiums has been discussed.

“We’re looking at five or six options to get the insurance downto something we can afford to keep,” Jinks said.

Jinks mentioned increasing the deductible from the current $250to $500, changes in stop-loss totals and changes in the employee’scontribution for dependent coverage. Currently, employees’insurance is fully paid the city and employees pay $55 a month fordependent coverage.

Jinks said the insurance funding level can be set for the budgetand specific action on an insurance plan handled later.

In non-personnel action, the board modified a paving fund planto give aldermen more discretion on how the money is spent in theirwards. The budget includes $15,000 per ward for paving orimprovements plus another $30,000 to be determined based oncitywide needs.

“Every alderman should be able to bring a proposal for thisbudget,” said Cameron, who suggested the change to allow the fundsto be used for paving or whatever project an alderman deemsnecessary.

Allen cautioned against increasing the $15,000 per wardamount.

“Every penny extra we put in is going to add to that $300,000that we were over (to start with),” Allen said.

Aldermen planned to resume budget work next week following anexpected brief regular board meeting. A new budget must be approvedby Sept. 15 for the new budget year that starts Oct. 1.