Budget plan would cut city departments, not raise taxes

Published 12:15 am Saturday, August 18, 2012

Taxes will not rise, but several City of Vicksburg departments will see cuts in a budget plan introduced Friday for Fiscal 2013.

“There are no pay raises other then step increases for employees under civil service,” Mayor Paul Winfield said. “If our revenue increases during the year, then we may start looking at other things, including pay raises, but right now, we’re going to do what we have to do to have a balanced budget.”

The proposed spending plan of $28.8 million is $161,026 less than the current budget.

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The proposal was finalized Friday after more than two weeks of city officials, department heads and accountants discussing department requests. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and, under state law, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen must vote to adopt a budget before Sept. 15.

Taxes paid by City of Vicksburg residents and businesses are reflected in tax bills mailed by the Warren County Tax Assessor’s Office in December. The single card includes the breakdown of taxes designated for the city, the county and the Vicksburg Warren School District.

School district officials said at the beginning of their fiscal year, July 1, that they needed a millage increase, but no tax hike was anticipated.

The county, which faces the same state-mandated budget deadlines as the city, has not adopted its budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Under the proposed city budget:

• The police department would see a reduction of $42,685, from $6.36 million to $6.32 million, despite a $68,710 increase in salaries and benefits for employees.

City accountant Doug Whittington said the increase is due to a raise in the city’s contribution to the Public Employees Retirement System that became effective in July.

“That raise affects any employee who is in the system,” he said.

Police Chief Walter Armstrong said the increase also includes a program in which officers will receive incentive pay for reaching training and fitness goals.

Armstrong said he plans to fill 10 vacancies in the police department, and Whittington said the budget will have to be adjusted to cover the slots. Winfield said the positions are already included in the budget.

“Provisions are made for them in the budget. If they are not used, then the money is credited back to the generah fund,” he said.

A major reduction in the police department budget is in capital, which includes such equipment as new cruisers. The capital outlay would be cut $146,600 in the proposed budget. Whittington said the cut reflects a reduction in the number of new cars, from 10 to four.

• The budget for the city’s ambulance service, which is operated by the city fire department, would increase by $298,701, from $2.14 million in 2012 to a projected $2.44 million. Part of that is a $210,918 increase in personnel to cover PERS and the hiring of new medics to staff a fifth ambulance on each of the three department shifts.

Fire Chief Charles Atkins’ plan to add the ambulances means hiring six people, three paramedics and three emergency technician/drivers.

The fire department budget includes a $691,700 increase in capital to replace a 1993 pumper. That increase, combined with smaller decreases in the remainder of the department’s budget would give it $6.04 million, $578,613 more than the $5.46 2012 current allotment.

• The recreation department’s budget would be cut by $164,071, from $808,388 to $664,317 proposed for 2013. Most of that cut is a $106,480 capital expenses, from $156,780 in 2012 to $50,300 for 2013.

Parks and recreation maintenance has a projected increase of $6,589 giving the department a $524,772 budget for 2013 as opposed to $518,183 in 2012. The increase includes a proposed $23,460 increase for capital expenses and $11,683 more for supplies. No money was allocated for capital expenses in 2012.

• Right of way’s budget would be cut by $138,000, from $1.18 million in 2012 to $1.04 million for 2013.

• Landscaping would be cut from $729,305 to $627,560.

• Cedar Hill Cemetery’s 2012 budget would be cut by $26,116, from $407,865 to $381,750.

Winfield said this week that he would like to combine the right of way, landscaping and cemetery departments in a move that could affect 29 employees.

“At some point, the person we put over this department may determine that it can be run with less people,” he said after the announcement. “If that is the case, we will see where we can place the people who are not needed there.”

One of the largest departments in the city is the Water and Gas Administration, which is funded through residential and commercial payments for water, sewer, natural gas and garbage pickup.

Winfield said late Friday he anticipated no increase in charges for those services.

An expense the city will face in the upcoming fiscal year is for mayoral and aldermanic elections in June. A total of $99,300 would be set aside for the elections under the proposed budget.

Under an ordinance set to expire in 2014, Winfield, North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman each receive a 5 percent raise on July 1 of the second and third years of their terms. Because this the fourth year, the three elected officials will get no raises.