New Albany aldermen were expected to approve a $7.5-million budget following a public hearing Tuesday night.
The press deadline for this issue was prior to the hearing because of Labor Day so this story was written before the hearing date.
A budget had to be voted on no later than Sept. 15 and at least seven days after the public hearing. That would mean any last-minute changes would have to be done by today, Wednesday.
Mayor Tim Kent said the budget has little overall difference from the 2021 budget, and is only about three percent higher.
The first item aldermen considered, and all agreed on, was an across-the-board three-percent cost-of-living raise for city employees, Ward Two Alderman Drew Horn wanted to make clear. “That was at the top of every budget wish list,” he said. The question of a raise had been a topic of discussion in preparing the budget a year ago.
Most individual sources of revenue are listed as the same or up about the three percent so the employee raise is in line with that.
The largest source of city revenue is Mississippi retail sales tax distribution, which is up about 11 percent. Next is about $1 million from New Albany Light, Gas and Water, with other substantial amounts from TVA, county road tax and court fines and fees.
The city actually has three budgets in a sense. There is the general city budget, the light, gas and water department that is treated separately, and the tourism budget, which is entirely separate from the others because use of its money is restricted.
The solid waste budget is part of the city general budget but legally required to be financially self-supporting so it amounts to a separate budget.
Only a few requests were made by department heads for capital expenditures, although two new positions were proposed.
Community Development Director Billye Jean Stroud has asked to hire someone whose primary task will be to implement the city’s comprehensive plan, perhaps adapting it as necessary due to city growth. Her reasoning is that there is really no one to implement the plan, which needs to be done.
Fire Chief Mark Whiteside has asked to hire someone described as a fire inspector, although that was something of a misnomer. Actually, although the person would schedule fire inspections done by firefighters, the primary job would be community risk mitigation. That would involve any issue relating to life safety, not only fire prevention.
It looked like the community development position, which would be funded by tourism tax, might stay in the budget while the fire position might not. Chief Whiteside said he was looking at possible alternate funding for the job for a year or two.
Other requests still in the tentative budget this past weekend include a new patrol vehicle for the police department, a mower for the street department, reel mower and sprayer for the park department and a motorized gate for the street department. The latter would be to secure the barn and equipment because workers are going in and out all day, but rarely is anyone there for any time.
Aldermen were forced to decide which other requests had to be cut to try to achieve a balanced budget.
Union County Library Director Sissy Bullock asked for $30,000 to pay for tables and benches for the Tanglefoot Trail Welcome Center plaza, to produce some tourism materials and for infrastructure to support the 10 computers provided by a grant from Toyota. Because of its proximity to the trail, the library has become the de factor welcome center for most visitors.
It was not clear what a decision would be.
In making projections to prepare the budget, Mayor Kent said there was no reason not to expect both the retail sales and tourism tax to continue at current or near-current levels, but to be conservative they are only projecting them to be 5.5 and 5.0 percent higher, respectively, for the coming year. The Covid pandemic is one reason to prepare for the unexpected.
He also said they a goal with the budget is to try to maintain a $250,000 surplus for any contingencies.
If a significant change to the budget were to be required as a result of the public hearing, the board could need to meet Wednesday.