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Officials: Sales tax collections key for budget

Mayor Bob Massengill gave aldermen a rundown of some of thehighlights of the general fund budget Tuesday night at a worksession at the government complex, with his first emphasis being onthe success of the city’s sales tax numbers.

Massengill said the budget anticipates $425,000 a month fromsales tax.

“Nobody knows what it’s going to be, so we’d like to beconservative,” said Massengill, pointing out that last month’scollections of $463,000 surpassed expectations.

Ward Six Alderman David Phillips said he feels like the successhas been due to people in Brookhaven and Lincoln County doing theirspending at home, and told the board it will be important in theupcoming year to continue to stress that to local residents.

“Encouraging people to shop in town is the best way to raise ourrevenue,” he said. “I believe we’ll see a real rise if we continueto encourage them to do that.”

Massengill agreed, pointing out again that when sales taxfigures are up, other taxes do not need to be raised.

Insurance for city workers was also a subject of discussion, asroutine yearly increases will raise the overall cost of dependentinsurance coverage around $66 per year. Aldermen discussed, but didnot come to a conclusion on how to handle the cost in relation tothe employees, who currently pay 50 percent of the dependentcoverage.

“We raised it a pretty chunk last year,” said Ward FourAlderwoman Shirley Estes. “I’d like to see us stabilize duringthese rough economic times.”

Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates agreed with Estes, saying he’dlike to see the city wait to raise the amount city workers have topay on dependent coverage.

“I believe we can look at it another year,” he said.

Maxwell said he thought making city workers pay another 4percent on their insurance wouldn’t hurt anyone.

“If you raise it 4 percent, you’re not even going up $10,” hesaid. “Insurance costs, benefits cost, and if we want them, we’regoing to have to pay for them.”

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron said one more year wouldn’t putthe city out too much.

“If we wait another year, we won’t be that far behind,” hesaid.

Maxwell said if the city is going to give a cost of living raiseevery year, they should also go up on the benefit costs, since theycost the city money.

Estes said city employees will be paying 50 percent of dependentcoverage, but this year it will just be 50 percent of a differentnumber.

Massengill said ofificials could revisit the issue at the nextwork session, which will be held on Aug. 21.

“There are two schools of thought here: either we leave it asis, or we charge them half of the $66, which is $33,” he said.

Among other numbers tentatively plugged into the budget are$10,000 for the city’s Web site, which will give residents a placeto pay their water bills online, as well as having other importantcity documents such as ordinances and maps.

Massengill said the $350,000 budgeted for the anticipated seniorcitizens’ center has been put there in hopes that the project willcome through.

“We feel good that will materialize, but we don’t know for sureyet,” he said.

The tentative $525,000 plugged in for the recreation departmentwill probably not stay, Massengill said, as he said he will bemeeting with Recreation Department Director Terry Reid, who willgive him a number that is “a little more realistic.”

Meanwhile, the Lincoln County Public Library Board of Directorshad asked the board for just over $110,000, and the mayor pointedout that the budget currently allows them $110,000.

This year marks the end of the step-up raises for the Chamber ofCommerce, as their budget goes from $60,000 to $72,000, Massengillsaid.

Meanwhile, the police and fire departments look as if they willparallel what they were given last year, with the exception thatPolice Chief Pap Henderson has asked for an additional animalcontrol officer and a vehicle for him. Fire Chief Bob Watts hasalso submitted a request for a training officer that has not yetbeen figured into the budget.

The street department has requested a dump truck at $50,000; twotractors with bush hogs at $102,000 for both; three radios at$3,000; four weed eaters at $1,200; a smaller dump truck at$70,000; and a one-half ton pickup, which has not yet beenpriced.

In addition to the good work being done by the streetdepartment, Massengill said, he has also been pleased with themoney spent to contract workers to do the mowing at Exit 40 thatused to be done by the Mississippi Department ofTransportation.

“I’ve been hearing comments about the city as a whole, how we’vecome a long way in cleaning up,” Estes said.

Maxwell said he’d like to see money put in the budget for atamper or some other machine to help the street workers withpotholes.

“We need a way for our guys to do a better job on the potholes,”he said.

Massengill said he’d get Public Works Director Steve Moreton tolook into the cost.

Phillips asked if there was any reason to consider bidding outthings like pothole control and mowing for some of the annexationareas since the city has tripled in size. He said it was in no wayto cause trouble for any city workers, but instead to bolster theirefforts while saving the city some money in the new areas.

“I don’t know if anyone would be interested in it, but I feellike we need to privatize some of this or make sure we give ourguys all the tools they need to do it,” he said.

Ward Three Alderwoman Mary Wilson said she’d be interested inseeing more money in the budget to add Christmas lights on thepoles where only Christmas banners have been placed before.

She used Highway 84 and Monticello Street as an example, sayingthe places where people are coming into the city are good places tohave the decorations. The allowance for the decorations in thebudget was raised from $4,000 to $10,000.