JACKSON The Jackson City Council approved adjustments to the final 2016 City budget today, including an additional $996,173 for the police department to cover overtime on the last paychecks of 2016.
Deputy Director of Administration Michelle Battee-Day said those funds came from the "personal services" categories of other departments, including more unfilled vacancies. Personal services include salaries, overtime and other personnel-related expenditures.
"Everyone was well under their spending," Battee-Day said, referencing the other departments, "and they had extra funds that they could give to police to bring them out of the red."
The shortfall in the allotted overtime funds required the city to pull in resources from the other departments, Batte-Day explained, but the transfer of money required council approval. "We didn't make very many adjustments," Battee-Day said, adding that most departments were under budget.
Council President and Ward 6 Councilman Tyrone Hendrix asked the administration how it was possible that the police kept running up so much overtime. "How are we, if we have vacancies in police, how are we overrunning so much in personal services and overtime without it being caught throughout the year?" Hendrix asked.
"The department has been put on notification throughout the year that overtime was an issue," Battee-Day said. "We really need to go back and do an assessment of where the overages happen because (Chief Lee Vance) has several divisions in his department."
Mayor Tony Yarber said his administration would take steps to hold the police department accountable for its overages.
"Initially, what we have done is ask the chief to provide us not only with the details, but also with a plan of action going into this fiscal year that is due at the top of the fiscal year," Yarber said. "That says 'here are the reasons that we have seen these issues, and here is what we plan to do about them,' whether it is a vacancy that we plan to make sure that we have filled, so we can cover, or whether it is us deploying services based on needs dictated by data, so we can be more efficient in that regard."
"This is a conversation we've been having all year with police, and it has escalated to us asking for a strategic plan that more tightly aligns with the controlled spending plan that we put in place ourselves," Yarber said. "So now we are asking for police to be accountable for talking to us, or creating a plan that gets us through the next fiscal year with these same financial issues."
Yarber said after the council adjourned that his administration would begin a series of meetings today with the heads of departments to look at stricter policies for next year's allotted expenditures.
The council approved the adjustments and the final budget unanimously, including an updated—and larger than expected—fund balance of $5.9 million. City ordinances compel the council and mayor to aim for a fund balance reserve of 7.5 percent for each budget year, and the amount held over from 2016 for next year only reaches 5.1 percent. This is the financial "cushion" for the City, designed to absorb any unforeseen expenditures.
Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester Jr. asked Battee-Day if the larger-than-expected fund balance gave the City any wiggle room, perhaps even to reinstate laid-off employees, end the furlough or to reallocate funds to programs like the Greater Jackson Arts Council.
"We still aren't meeting a 7.5-percent reserve," Priester said. "But when we made the budget a couple of weeks ago, we were told to assume a much smaller reserve carryover. In light of the numbers currently before you, do you think this gives us some float to revise the budget?"
"I feel comfortable with the budget as adopted as it is," Battee-Day said. "I wouldn't consider this float because we were really hard-pressed to hold the departments to this."
"I feel comfortable with where we are, and I think that the departments can reasonably maintain at those levels," Battee-Day said.
CORRECTION: This article, when originally published, incorrectly stated that the council voted to close out the final 2017 budget, when in fact they voted to finish the budget for 2016.
Email city reporter Tim Summers Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org. See more local news at jfp.ms/localnews.