Taxpayers should care about city, county budgets

Published 10:17 am Tuesday, August 25, 2015

It’s budget time for local governments, meaning important decisions are being made about how your tax dollars will be spent.

Budget meetings should draw hundreds to the meeting rooms of Lincoln County supervisors and Brookhaven aldermen. But they don’t. Apathy is partly to blame. It’s hard to get Joe Public to make time for something as potentially boring as a budget meeting. Most taxpayers just don’t care.

But all taxpayers should care about how tax dollars are spent. It’s your money after all.

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The Brookhaven Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing on the city budget today at 5:30 p.m. City officials anticipate no tax increase in the approximately $12 million budget, but that doesn’t mean funding won’t increase or decrease for city departments, agencies and other groups funded by the city.

Open Meetings Act comes up short

Mississippi’s Open Meetings Act “ensures that all public bodies, state and local, hold open meetings on public matters.”

There are, of course, exceptions but generally any meeting of any public body is open to the public. But the law’s notification requirement is lacking.

For meetings that are held at the same place and time — such as regular board meetings — no notice must be given to the public. For public budget hearings, public bodies must place an advertisement in the newspaper.

But for specially called meetings, state law only requires public bodies to post a notice within one hour after such meeting is called in a prominent place in the building where the public body normally meets.

That sounds well and good, but in reality it typically means an 8.5×11-inch notice is placed on a door or bulletin board. That’s not much notice, and in theory, an interested taxpayer would have to check for a notice daily to ensure that he/she didn’t miss a specially-called meeting. The same goes for a newspaper reporter.

The public doesn’t have time to make such trips to the government building to check for notices. Newspaper reporters are paid to do it, and they sometimes don’t have time. A stronger notification requirement would ensure more of the public knows what its government is up to.