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Board fine tunes 2013-2014 budget

DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / City Clerk Mike Jinks (left) adds an item to the proposed 2013-2014 budget as Ward One Alderman Randy Belcher takes notes during Thursday night's work session.

DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / City Clerk Mike Jinks (left) adds an item to the proposed 2013-2014 budget as Ward One Alderman Randy Belcher takes notes during Thursday night’s work session.

At Christmas, every kid and most adults have a wish list. In late August, so do city aldermen.

Aldermen represent the citizens within their wards, and so their wish list is not as self-serving as that sounds. However, the hard part is to make all aldermen happy with the final result.

“The key to the budget is to avoid falling into a fiscal trap of entertaining more wish than ability,” said Ward Six Alderman David Phillips at the board’s budget work session Thursday night. “We can’t over obligate the public with debt.”

At Thursday’s discussion of the proposed 2013-2014 budget, city officials went through the first phase of budget oversight, a preliminary look at city expenses.

A key concern this year is the necessity of eliminating a half million dollar shortfall in the proposed working budget draft.

In an attempt to alleviate this concern, much of the discussion at the work session centered on the issue of pay raises for city workers. Citing concern over balancing expenditures with revenue, the mayor, city clerk, city attorney and most of the city aldermen made the preliminary decision not to provide city workers a raise, themselves included.

Still – the topic of raises generated a lengthy discussion about key employees, those that might be likely to entertain other job offers if unsatisfied.

“How do we keep key employees, provide them all the incentives they deserve, without increasing the deficit?” asked Ward Five Alderman Fletcher Grice.

Phillips pointed out that city employees have had pay raises for each of the last three to four years. City workers’ pay, including health care benefits and retirement, accounts for roughly 52 percent of the budget.

Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates did ask that a two percent across-the-board pay raise be included in the proposed budget, amounting to approximately $120,000 in additional city expenditure.

On another matter, early completion of the FEMA 361 storm shelter will save the city nearly half a million dollars, according to City Clerk Mike Jinks.

A $100,000 safe routes to school grant will add cash to the budget, although it is targeted for a specific purpose, while money from Amtrak will provide the city additional revenue as well.

The work session also gave aldermen an opportunity to talk about generating new streams of revenue for future growth. “We need a revenue plan, not just an expense plan,” said Phillips.

City Attorney Joe Fernald and Phillips discussed the possible annexation of area west of I-55, and around Industrial Park, which would supply the city a fresh, future revenue stream.

Jinks noted that the 2013-2014 budget will be completed by Tuesday, Sept. 3, and presented at the aldermen’s meeting then at 6 p.m.

Before then, the public will have a chance to weigh in Tuesday, Aug. 27. At that time, the mayor, aldermen and city clerk will consider the input of Brookhaven citizens, and determine what revisions to make or not make to the budget. The hearing will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the boardroom Brookhaven-Lincoln County Government Complex.

Overall, Jinks says he is happy with the work session. “I am comfortable with where we are right now. I wasn’t when we started, but I am now,” Jinks remarked.