Proposed city budget for fiscal year 2017 includes $396,000 deficit that potentially could grow

Published 10:09 am Friday, August 26, 2016

The Board of Aldermen presented a more than $41 million fiscal 2017 general fund budget Thursday featuring a pay raise for city employees, no property tax increase and a $396,000 shortfall.

It’s a deficit that could grow to about $1.4 million, city Accounting Director Doug Whittington said, if the Warren County Board of Supervisors decide to hire a private company instead of renewing its 39-year-old ambulance service agreement with the city.

The supervisors are expected to vote on ambulance service at a 9 a.m. special meeting Monday.

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But Mayor George Flaggs Jr. believes the county’s actions won’t affect the board’s efforts to resolve the shortfall and keep the employee raises.

“I think we can still balance this budget, and we can still give pay raises as promised,” he said. “I don’t think we should leave here tonight having the employees think their pay raises are in jeopardy because of what the city or county may do. I think we can balance our budget regardless of what the citizens may think. I do hope that it (the ambulance decision) is what’s best for the community and not just for county versus the city.”

Flaggs’ comments came at the Thursday night budget hearing attended by about 20 people — most of them city employees. The hearing is part of the process required by state law before the board approves its final budget by Sept. 15.

Because calendar year 2017 is an election year for municipal offices, the budget is the last for the present administration. A new board will prepare the fiscal 2018 budget.

The proposed fiscal 2017 budget is composed of revenue from sales, property and gambling tax, outside sources such as state and federal funds, and income from permits, fees, court fines and interest on savings totaling about $29 million, with the remainder coming from the city’s $9.2 million capital improvements bond issue, plus loans and special grants making up the balance of $13.2 million.

Because the bond money and other loans are designated for certain projects, it means the city has about $29 million to operate government during fiscal 2017.

The city’s largest source of revenue is property tax. The city assesses 35.88 mills in property tax, which is projected to raise $9.027 million in fiscal 2017. Sales tax is expected to generate $8 million, with gaming taxes raising $5.28 million, and other revenue sources producing about $6.5 million.

Among the city’s different divisions, public safety, which includes police, fire and ambulance, emergency management, building inspection and traffic control, has the biggest part of the budget with $19 million; part of that is more than $1 million for a new fire station. Of that division, the police department has the largest budget with $7.4 million, with the fire department’s totaling $7.16 million.

General government, which includes city administration, the city clerk, human resources and accounting totals $10.8 million. Administration has the largest single budget with $5.5 million.

The public works budget, which includes about $2 million in bond money for street paving and a $1.3 million Mississippi Development Authority loan for the Wisconsin connector Road, totals $7.8 million.

Flaggs said the board overall has done a good job running the city and keeping it in good financial shape “when you compare us to other cities, like Jackson. There have not been furloughs, there has not been any cut in (employee) benefits; in fact, we’ve enhanced the benefit program.

“We have not spent any bond money outside of capital projects. This board has really managed the money well for this city.”

“We’ve made some responsible decisions; we’ve made some tough decisions,” South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson said. “I feel good about the opportunities we’ve had and the decisions we’ve made to move forward.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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