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Board OKs $9.3M budget for new year

Brookhaven aldermen Monday settled on 3 percent across-the-boardpay raises for city employees, excluding themselves and the mayor,and then approved a $9.3 million general fund budget for the newfiscal year that starts Saturday.

Monday’s work session began with the board revisiting concernsabout recent changes that will require city employees to pay morefor insurance coverage. Among other changes, the new plan raisesthe employees’ deductible and increases from $55 a month to $175 amonth the employees’ cost for dependent health and dentalcoverage.

“There’s some low-income employees who aren’t going to be ableto keep insurance for their families, and that’s sad,” Ward TwoAlderman Terry Bates said.

City Clerk Mike Jinks said only one employee had droppedinsurance, while three or four had come in to sign up. Friday isthe last day for employees to enroll for city insurance.

Bates maintained the changes would be difficult onemployees.

“They’re going to have to struggle to keep it,” Bates said.

With the insurance plan, Bates suggested avoiding givinganything other than 3 percent across-the-board pay raises toemployees. Following up on a comment made by Mayor Bob Massengillat a previous work session, Bates said the mayor’s merit, orperformance-based, pay raise plan could be implemented nextyear.

Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell called for the implementation ofan employee evaluation process in conjunction with departmentheads. He said the system should review an employee’s work twice ayear.

“I think we would be much better off putting that in placefirst,” Maxwell said.

Massengill said he was fine with delaying the merit pay plan. Hesaid it would be in fairness to employees who may not have knownthey were being evaluated.

“You should know you’re being evaluated because you’re trying todo a good job for the person you’re working for,” the mayorsaid.

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron said employee absenteeismshould be a main consideration during the evaluation.

“That’s what we’re having a problem with,” he said.

Massengill agreed. He mentioned that, initiative, attitude andtaking care of city equipment as other considerations in theevaluation process.

A “straw poll” board vote for 3 percent raises was unanimous.Aldermen could not take any formal action since they were in a worksession at the time and not at a regular meeting.

The action prompted a question about whether the mayor and boardof aldermen would be included in the across-the-board plan.Massengill rejected a raise while Maxwell lobbied for aldermen tobe included.

“If we’re going to say everybody, let it be everybody, includingaldermen,” Maxwell said.

Another straw poll ended in a 3-3 tie, with Massengill declaringthe vote unsuccessful and his vote against it.

Aldermen Maxwell, Terry Bates and Mary Wilson supported theboard member pay raise while Aldermen Cameron, Les Bumgarner andBuddy Allen opposed it. Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes had aprior engagement and was unable to attend Tuesday night’smeeting.

Asked after the meeting about his support for a pay raise,Maxwell said 3 percent would not put Brookhaven aldermen’s pay outof line with other communities’. The newest alderman also indicatedit would avoid having to enact larger percentage raises in futureyears.

“Aldermen who work and see that the city is progressing deservea cost of living raise like all other employees of the city,”Maxwell said.

In justifying his vote against a raise, Cameron cited recentboard action to increase water and sewer rates and garbagerates.

“I don’t want to take a raise and then turn around and raisefees,” Cameron said. “It doesn’t seem right to me, and I can’t goalong with it.”

The overall pay raise action voided an earlier decision to giveCity Clerk Mike Jinks a 6 percent raise, which he had requested dueto his office assuming some duties of the closed city taxcollector’s office. It also addressed some board members’ desire togive a similar percentage raise to Police Chief Pap Henderson.

Massengill said the pay raise action simplified the budgetprocess greatly.

“That takes a lot of the work out of figuring this budget,”Massengill said.

With pay raises out of the way, officials moved quickly throughthe rest of the budget discussion.

Bates suggested setting aside money each year toward building acommunity center. Massengill asked the board to wait until the cityhears from the state’s congressional delegation regarding thestatus of $500,000 that had been requested earlier for a communitycenter.

Citing recent hurricane-related activity, Allen said the boardshould either set aside or work toward setting aside $2 million fora catastrophe fund. Jinks and Massengill said the board would haveto raise taxes if it intended to do that.

In order to be balanced, the new budget will require about$470,000 come from the city’s carry over funds. Officialsacknowledged the impact that would have on the city’s fundbalance.

“It’s going to affect our cash flow somewhat now,” saidMassengill, although adding that federal reimbursement forstorm-related activities will improve the fund balance picture nextyear.

After reconvening the regular board meeting, aldermen approvedthe general fund budget 5-1. Renewing concerns from last year aboutrecreation department funding, Bates was the lone dissentingvote.

Also, aldermen unanimously approved $2.4 million water and sewerdepartment and $986,100 solid waste budgets. The board hadpreviously approved 6 percent water and sewer rate increases and a$4 a month increase in the garbage fee.

“In order to make ends meet is really what it’s for,” Bumgarnersaid the increases in those areas.

Typically, the city budget is approved by Sept. 15 before theOct. 1 start of the new fiscal year. Brookhaven officials weregiven some flexibility this year due to the arrival of HurricaneKatrina.

With uncertainty over insurance and pay raise actions next year,Massengill said he wanted to begin budget discussions earlier nextyear.

“Next year, we’re going to start a lot sooner so we don’t findourselves this late in the game,” Massengill said.