City spending plan cuts expenses, holds pay raises at bay

Published 11:30 am Friday, August 31, 2012

A small group of Vicksburg residents got an overview Thursday night of the city’s proposed $28.89 million fiscal 2012-13 general fund budget that features no millage increases, layoffs or employee pay raises.

Mayor Paul Winfield also used the forum to renew his call for a sports complex for the city.

Meanwhile, homeowners and businesses countywide must wait nearly a week to find out how much the Warren County Board of Supervisors will collect and spend in fiscal 2013.

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Winfield said he expects the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to approve the budget next week, but did not give a day. Winfield, who will be attending Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday through Thursday, said he will participate in the meeting by teleconference. The board is scheduled to hold its regular meeting Tuesday.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors is expected to adopt a $14.8 million budget following a public hearing at 9 a.m. Sept. 10, delayed from Tuesday due to a legal ad snafu. By law, the city and county must adopt their budgets by Sept. 15. The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

Supervisors were considering raising property taxes, but backed off, citing tax assessments from public utilities and railroad property up nearly 6 percent. Those assessments, on power lines, phone lines, natural gas pipelines, railroad track and various other utilities, totaled $99.8 million for 2012, up from $94.2 million last year.

The increased assessments, coupled with cuts tied to leaving vacant jobs open next year, created a surplus $10,803 in a draft version of the budget discussed earlier this week.

The proposed city budget is about $161,026 less than the $29.05 million 2012 budget and has a projected $574 fund balance.

Seventeen people, including several department heads, attended the public hearing to learn about the budget, which Winfield characterized as tight.

“This is pretty consistent with what you’ve seen in the past few years,” he said. “We have been very consistent with basic business practices, where if you have a decline in revenue, you cut your expenses.”

Winfield made his pitch for the sports complex during city accountant Doug Whittington’s overview of the budget, saying he intends to push for the sports complex, adding it will stimulate growth in the city.

“I’m not keeping this a secret,” he said. “I’m going to be calling some people out and we’re going to ask them to take a position, either pro or con. I don’t intend for this to be saddled with politics again. We need this, and if it doesn’t fly in the future, it won’t be because I didn’t try.”

Whittington said the city’s total assessed property value was down by $4.1 million, from $316.5 million in 2012 to a $312.4 million in 2013. He said, however, that the city’s property tax revenues are projected at $7.39 million, up about $357,800 over 2012’s $7.033 million.

He also projected a $600,000 increase in sales tax revenue, estimating the 2013 receipts to total $7.8 million as opposed to $7.2 million for 2012.

“I’m projecting an increase in anticipation of potential revenue from the Sesquicentennial celebration next year,” he said.

Vicksburg will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Siege of Vicksburg in 2013 with a major observance on Memorial Day. The event and related area activities surrounding the observance is expected to draw a large number of tourists.

Besides the sales tax increase, Whittington also projected $6.45 million in gaming revenue, an increase over 2012’s total of $6.37 million.

Looking at expenses, he said general government, which includes administration, legal, city court, city clerk, accounting, human resources safety, purchasing and information technology, is expected to cost the city $5.36 million. Public safety, which includes the police and fire departments, will have the highest budget of $16.1 million.

Other large budgets include public works and landscaping, $5.15 million, and culture, parks and recreation, $1.7 million. Whittington said NRoute had requested $264,063 from the city, but Winfield said that total is still under study.

“There are certain contingencies that will have to be addressed before we approve anything,” he said, but did not specify what issues were being considered. NRoute receives $135,000 a year from the city, and has received an additional $30,895 from the city since June to head off a projected $15,000 year-end deficit.

Supervisors will convene formally Tuesday, but the budget won’t be on the agenda.

A legal notice published earlier this month failed to properly cite state law on how to advertise a local tax levy, County Administrator John Smith said. A law passed in 2011 allows county boards to specify which millage fund is to be increased. Supervisors don’t plan to raise the general county millage, only the amount requested by the Vicksburg Warren School District — a distinction supervisors wanted to stress.

Notices in August didn’t make the distinction and a new ad could not be run within seven days of the hearing, as required by state law.

“We have to give enough time before the meeting, so the hearing is now Sept. 10,” Smith said.

Board President Bill Lauderdale called the situation “a tad confusing,” but the board plans “to err on the side of caution.”

In the current version of the budget, taxes levied to support the Vicksburg Warren School District would increase by 1.21 mills. A .12-mill increase in the county’s general millage is balanced by an identical decrease in the road fund.

Full-time positions in emergency management and the tax assessor’s office and a part-time slot in the tax collector’s office will go unfilled this year. They represent $114,722 in salaries that won’t be paid. Another seven to stay unfilled are in the sheriff’s department and include a jail population manager. General funds for the sheriff’s department in the proposed budget is nearly level to this year, at $3.3 million.

Raising fees to build sheds, barns and other structures outside Vicksburg to at least $20 would net about $9,000 in extra revenue based on estimated activity this year, a calculation based on how many permits are sold this fiscal year. Currently, the fee is $5. Fees to build structures in a floodplain would rise to $25 in the working draft’s current form.

New spending in 2013 comes from the gaming tax revenue fund. The list totals $753,493 and includes eight vehicles to replace high-mileage cruisers in the sheriff’s department, matching money for a federal block grant to resurface China Grove Road, a tandem truck for the Road Department, a backup radio system for county officials, a subscription fee for the CodeRed emergency alert system and renovations to records rooms in the chancery clerk’s office.