Jackson Sales Tax Up; Enough for Shortfalls? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Jackson Sales Tax Up; Enough for Shortfalls?

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Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. wants a local chamber of commerce to hand some appointment powers to the city regarding a new commission overseeing infrastructure development.

The City of Jackson's first-quarter 2011 budget offered a mixed bag to the City Council yesterday. The city is looking at an increase in sales-tax revenue for the first time since 2009, but the city will have to adjust for budget shortfalls in its police department and in public transportation.

"As of February 2011, sales tax collections are 3.32 percent, or $413,174 ahead of budget," the city stated in a March 2 memorandum. The city also generated $389,897 more in revenue than it did this same time last year. The 3.32 percent surplus represents a decrease in a revenue surplus of 4.13 percent recorded at the beginning of the Christmas shopping season last December.

Rick Hill, deputy director of the city's Administration and Finance Department, said he welcomed the new revenue as a sign that the economy may be improving, but adopted a cautious attitude toward the new money this early.

"This is just the first quarter. We've still got the rest of the year to go," Hill said. "We could possibly need the surplus before the year is out if revenue drops again."

Hill said it was up to the mayor and the city council to decide how to allocate the additional funds in the budget. He said that it could be used for any purpose, providing the surplus remains intact, but for now the money is going to sit in the general fund balance.

Chances are, the modest uptick will cover other shortfalls, however. The city is facing a $1.3 million shortfall in JATRAN's budget thanks to a 2010 union arbitration award favoring union pay increases. Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. proposed last December a plan to cut some JATRAN bus routes, including some Saturday routes, to cover the $1.5 million immediate award to union workers for back pay, and the mandated follow-up pay raises. However, the council failed to pass Johnson's budget recommendation.

Johnson said JATRAN managed to save $150,708 in the first quarter, but added that the shortfall remains, and that the city will have to revise its budget "to address this matter ... in the near future."

The mayor told the council that the city is also facing the prospect of running out of overtime pay for police officers by April as a result of "enhanced police activity." Police presence at events like the Christmas parade and officers' visibility at shopping outlets throughout the city to ensure civilian safety during the busy Christmas shopping season packed the payroll. Johnson said the city would soon submit a budget for the council's approval allocating more overtime funding.

The city's police department and its cruising patrol vehicles may soon suffer the fallout of rising gas prices, as fuel prices creep above $3.50 at many gas stations administering the city's Fuelman gasoline account for municipal vehicles.

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