Pay raises, fee hikes in budget

Published 8:00 pm Friday, August 17, 2012

Brookhaven aldermen have added a 2 percent raise for all city employees – including elected officials – into a draft version of next year’s budget and plan to increase monthly water, sewer and solid waste bills by a total of $1.50.

     The new fees discussed during a Thursday work session would add 50 cents each to the charges for water, sewer and garbage, which all come on the same monthly bill. That would push the monthly minimum bill from $40.85 to $42.35.

     The Water and Sewer and Solid Waste departments must operate out of the revenue they generate through fees. Money cannot be allocated from the general budget to make up for any shortfall in these departments.

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     These fees, and the budget under discussion, would be implemented when the 2012-13 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

     Though it hasn’t been voted on yet, aldermen seem prepared to implement a 2 percent raise for all city employees.

     A proposal for a 3 percent raise was dropped after it proved unlikely to gain majority support. Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron and Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates supported a 3 percent raise, but all others indicated opposition, hesitation or reservations.

     Cameron compared raises for employees to Christmas presents.

     Cameron told fellow aldermen they’d be disappointed if they didn’t receive any gifts on Christmas morning from family members or close friends. He then said city employees potentially face the same situation.

     “They know it’s budget time and they’re expecting something,” Cameron said.

     What sparked more debate was whether aldermen should be included in the raises.

     “For one time can we do the employees and not the aldermen?” asked Alderman at Large Karen Sullivan, indicating the board majority’s past practice of always including aldermen in city pay raises.

     Ward Five Alderman Maxwell objected and pointed out that the total cost of aldermen raises came to only about $2,371.

     “It’s the principle of the thing,” Sullivan replied.

     Under a 2 percent raise, aldermen salaries would move from approximately $17,047 to $17,387. The mayor’s salary would increase from approximately $66,275 to 67,600.

     Phillips chimed in and suggested full-time elected officials such as the mayor and city clerk should receive a raise, but aldermen should not.

     “It’s going to be across the board,” Maxwell said.

     At one point, Cameron also seemed open to rejecting raises for aldermen.

     “It’s something you can live without,” Cameron said to Maxwell.

     “I’d be glad to,” Maxwell replied, explaining his preference was for no raises for anyone or only a small raise.

     But he repeated that any raises need to be across the board.

     Maxwell also objected to the notion of voting on raises for aldermen separately from employee raises, a move Sullivan, Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes and Ward Six David Phillips seemed to support.

     “I don’t think it’s right. You do this every year,” Maxwell said. “I don’t want to be put on the spot about this every year.”

     When asked about the matter after the meeting, Maxwell said he believes not giving aldermen regular cost of living raises will cause their salaries to fall behind, forcing larger increases periodically.

     “I just think a cost of living adjustment should be across the board so it doesn’t get out of line,” Maxwell said.

     In other business, Ward Three Alderman Mary Wilson requested money for a spray park at Bethel Park.

     “I want to earmark some more,” Wilson said.

     Last year, $20,000 was put into the budget for the spray aprk and Wilson wants another $25,000 put in, making a total of $45,000 set aside for the spray park. Cameron said one spray park costs about $100,000 and a grant couldn’t be found for any of the city’s prior spray parks.

     Maxwell and Sullivan also requested about $18,000 be put in for landscaping and improvements to Exit 40, which the Mississippi Department of Transportation will apparently assist in.

     “All I’ve heard is bad stuff about MDOT, but they’ve been very helpful,” Sullivan said, explaining MDOT will bring in topsoil to cover bare patches in the area.

     City Clerk Mike Jinks warned aldermen he believes they’re too interested in projects like parks, landscaping and signs while water and sewer infrastructure continues to degrade.

     “You need to be a little more concerned about what’s under the ground,” Jinks said.

     Estes objected, citing the importance of beautification and quality of life to retaining residents.

     Sullivan also spoke up, defending her request for about $15,000 for a new sign at Rosehill Cemetery.

     “There hasn’t been a sign there in 150 years,” Sullivan said.

     “And there’s not a person in the ground there that cares,” Jinks replied.

     Exact budget numbers including Thursday’s revisions were unavailable, but total revenue will be budgeted at near $12 million and spending looks to be budgeted over $13 million, with an approximately $1.18 million deficit projected.

     The projected budget for the current fiscal year, 2011-12, showed nearly $1 million in deficit spending, but Jinks said the city is currently running a $250,000 surplus, without touching the surplus reserve funds from the prior fiscal year.

     Jinks said budget projections for the city have historically overestimated spending and that sound fiscal discipline should prevent a deficit. In the event that it doesn’t, city reserve funds can cover the deficit.

     Aldermen have scheduled a public hearing on the budget for Aug. 28 and are expected to give final approval to the budget in early September.