Lower revenue forces city, county budget cuts

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Shrinking revenues forced Vicksburg and Warren County officials to make cuts in their proposed budgets for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. However, it appears a tax hike will not be necessary and no municipal jobs are at stake.

The city made its proposed spending plan available Monday. The $31 million total is about $500,000 less than the current budget and has several sharp changes in departmental funding from the Laurence Leyens administration.  

The Budgets

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Click here for the Warren County proposed budget

Click here for the City of Vicksburg proposed budget

“I don’t anticipate any immediate effects on employees right now,” said Mayor Paul Winfield, noting some personnel changes may happen at City Hall but not due to revenue. “We are trying not to raise taxes; that was my No. 1 concern.”

Vicksburg operates on money from property taxes, a rebate of state sales tax and a local tax on casino revenue. Warren County has the same revenue streams, less the sales tax rebate.

The one variable local city and county boards control is the tax rate, expressed in millages and used as a multiplier with other numbers for property tax collections. Even if neither board increases tax rates, many will pay higher taxes. Overall, property valuations, another number in the taxation formula, are up 5.9 percent. While much of that is due to new construction, one-fourth of all parcels are revalued by the Warren County Tax Assessor’s Office each year.

Spending reductions are spread evenly through Warren County’s general fund for 2009-10. A draft for the coming year shows $14,892,479 in spending next year, down more than 5.5 percent from this year’s $15.7 million budget.

If you go

A public hearing on the proposed 2009-10 city budget will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27, in room 109 of the City Hall Annex, 1415 Walnut St. The public hearing on the county budget will be at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8, at the Warren County Courthouse, 1009 Cherry St.

A little over half of the city’s 30-plus departments operating from the general fund saw their budgets trimmed. Those taking the biggest cuts are the fire, landscaping and recreation departments — which saw collective funding reduced by nearly $850,000.

The cuts come in the capital expense column, meaning the same number of employees in those departments will have fewer resources to work with. Winfield campaigned on a pledge to expand recreation options in the city, and said he’s still committed to that goal despite cutting the department’s budget by approximately 23 percent.

“We had to do that to keep from raising taxes,” Winfield said of the cuts. “There are initiatives I pledged to work toward during my campaign that I still fully intend to work on. I still plan to expand recreation.”

In the county, cuts up to 10 percent are in 31 of 45 departments and other general-funded entities with more than one employee, with the only increases allowed for hikes in health insurance and public employee retirement benefits.

Positions losing a place in the 2010 budget are unfilled, part-time slots in seven departments including the Information Technology Department, Tax Assessor’s Office, Justice Court, Extension Office and Warren County Jail. Retirements are also hitting the Tax Collector’s Office and the Department of Human Services.

Nixed capital requests, such as office furniture and supplies, make up the rest of the $872,240 difference between this year and the current version of next year’s budget.

The biggest cut comes in Buildings & Grounds, which reflects another delay on general dollars to paint and carpet the interior of the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library. Supervisors still hope for federal energy-related stimulus funds to finance new windows and light fixtures.

Combined funding for the Sheriff’s Department and Warren County Jail is $282,169 less than last year, with fewer new vehicles and personnel reflected in the proposed budget. Pay raises are limited to department-specific hikes related to longevity or tenure, examples being two in the Road Department and full-time dispatchers in E-911.  

Not all city departments are seeing cuts; however, it appears any extra funds likely will be spent on extra salaries more often than added services. Additional staffing in the mayor’s office and the legal department has ballooned those departments’ budgets by a combined $335,000. The mayor hired two administrative assistants shortly after taking office in July, and the legal department has taken on an extra employee in former Municipal Judge Walterine Langford, who was transferred back into the legal office after the mayor and aldermen appointed former City Attorney Nancy Thomas to take her place in the city court.

The police department — the city’s largest in funding terms — will see appropriations increase by about $193,000, to a total of $6,330,050. Included in the increases are 16 Taser stun guns, 20 Chevrolet Impala cruisers, four marked and unmarked Chevrolet Tahoes and two Honda motorcycles.

Public hearings on the budgets will begin with the city’s on Thursday, Aug. 27, at 7 p.m. in the City Hall Annex room 109. The county hearing is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8 when supervisors gather public comment on the 2009-10 budget. In the recent past, budgets have passed without much input or participation from the public at hearings.

Supervisors were resigned to the departmental cuts weeks ago at the urging of County Administrator John Smith, who aims to have cash balances back up to $4 million in five years. The balances were pegged at $2.1 million this year versus $4 million four years ago.

Most contentious among expected requests figure to come from the circuit court judges and donations to nonprofits.

“I don’t want to go to jail, but I’ll walk to the steps,” Board President Richard George said, referring to bench orders the supervisors have been compelled to approve regarding pay raises for court personnel — raises not usually included at budget time.

Circuit court funding is down nearly $43,000 in the proposed budget, as equipment and juror witness fund amounts have been reduced.

Public funding of charities by the county, already cut during this fiscal year, will be cut further. Sixteen organizations whose primary mission is charity will still get more than a half-million in state-permitted funding from the county, but $65,000 less than last year.

Despite updates on where public funds went in this year’s allocations, the board remained cool to tinkering with the proposed cuts.

“If they’re not going to do anything, we shouldn’t be paying them,” District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale said. “That’s how I feel about all of them.”

Spending on fuel reflects lower gas prices compared to last year’s record-highs, as $316,000 will be spent in the Road Department on highway maintenance and ferry operation, about $128,000 less than this year’s budget.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com

Contact Danny Barrett Jr. dbarrett@vicksburgpost.com

Proposed city changes

Department    2009-2010    2008-2009    Change  

                       (Proposed)       (Actual)


• Legal              $583,141      $380,693      +$202,448

• Administration    $3,640,501    $3,508,911    +$131,590

• Animal Control    $278,430    $199,506    +$78,924


• Fire    $5,543,018    $6,013,096    -$470,078

• Landscaping    $648,909    $841,565    -$192,656

• Recreation    $586,948    $760,961    -$ 174,013

Proposed county budget

Department                  2009-2010    2008-2009    Change

                                      (Proposed)    (Actual)

• Buildings & Grounds    $836,626    $973,484     -$136,858

• Sheriff                        $3,356,715    $3,490,968  -$134,253

• Board of Supervisors    $676,780    $781,882    -$105,102

• Youth Detention            $591,621    $663,753    -$72,132

• 16 charitable orgs         $513,680    $578,700    -$65,020