Council Ponders Pay Raises, Budget Cuts | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Council Ponders Pay Raises, Budget Cuts

After several weeks of poorly attended budget hearings, the city will approve a budget for the coming fiscal year later today.

In late August, Mayor Tony Yarber offered his first budget and slashed city spending by one-fifth, about $110 million from the $502 million the city council adopted last year.

Overall, the budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, projects $392.5 million in expenditures and revenues of $510.3 million. For the current fiscal year, the city council adopted a budget that anticipated $610 million in revenues.

With Yarber's recommendation in hand, the city council is now faced with the task of approving the plan as presented or deciding if the city will spend more or less money. On top of the mayor's proposed 20 percent in cuts, the city council must figure out how to pay for its recently passed minimum-wage increase for city workers.

The council recently agreed to put a minimum-wage pay increase up to a full vote. Currently, the minimum wage for city employees mirrors the national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Under the new plan, the wage would rise to $8.75 per hour within a year. The next year, it would go up to $9.70 and $10.65 after three years.

Council members projected that the change would cost around $150,000. But Trivia Jones, the city's director of the administration, said that figure might be low because the pay increase would also be applied to vacant positions already budgeted.

Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester Jr., who chairs the city's budget committee, suggested that rolling back "personal services" for four city departments—the offices of the mayor, chief administrative officer, city attorney and city clerk—to 2013 levels could shave approximately $646,000 from the budget. Some of that reduction would help pay for $2.1 million in Oracle software upgrades for the department of administration.

"I don't see anywhere else to play. Does anyone see anyplace to do some belt-tightening?" Priester asked.

"Personal services" include salaries, overtime, insurance, pension and employee taxes.

Council members seem reluctant to cut budgets for the police and fire departments or for public works, which are perhaps the three most politically sensitive areas of the budget. Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps and Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon said they would oppose cutting from the city clerk's budget.

"We've got people who have been working in the clerk's office for 20, 25 years who are making less than other peoples' secretaries," Stamps said.

Barrett-Simon agreed that assistant clerks "are not earning big, fat salaries," compared to some of the top earners in the city. Barrett-Simon pointed her vote against raising the salary of the new director of public-works, Kishia Powell, to $150,000 as evidence of her concern for the haves and have-nots among city employees.

Stamps also noted that the mayor's office has 19 support-staff positions, with another "seven or eight" staff members in CAO Gus McCoy's office while the city council lacks any full-time staffers. Yarber's budget proposal includes $913,960 for personal services.

The CAO's office's proposed personal-services budget is $616,781, while Yarber proposed $1.2 million for the city attorney's office and $636,555 for city clerk's office.

The special meeting of the city council begins at 4 p.m. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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