Testy City Council OKs Budget with Caveats | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Testy City Council OKs Budget with Caveats

Mayor Tony Yarber says that his first budget proposal reflects a dedication to children and public safety.

Mayor Tony Yarber says that his first budget proposal reflects a dedication to children and public safety. Photo by Trip Burns.

The Jackson City Council had to pass a budget today. It met that legal requirement, but it wasn't pretty.

The council met for about two hours this evening for a special meeting to consider Mayor Tony Yarber's $390 million budget proposal for every city department.

Council members received a copy of the mayor's 417-page budget proposal on Wednesday, Aug. 20. Early this morning, council members received an approximately 25-page addendum full of expenditures that would grow the plan by about $2 million.

Members complained that they did not have enough time to fully review the documents.

"They had eight months to prepare a budget, and we had eight or nine working days," Council President and Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps told the Jackson Free Press after the meeting of the city's administration department.

Among today's changes, the amount the city would spend on lobbying services grew by $80,000 to $136,000. The budget book lists $56,000 for lobbying.

Yarber said that the administration realized additional needs after the budget book was printed. He has asked the council to approve contracts to hire two lobbying firms, one to petition the state Legislature and another for Congress. Yarber had asked the council to approve a professional services contract with Hayes Dent Public Strategies last week, but the item was held.

Formerly the chief of staff for late Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice and GOP nominee for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District in 1993, Dent is one of the state's most powerful lobbyists. Dent is also the principal owner of a firm that Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber hired during his mayoral campaign earlier this year.

Other last-minute changes to the budget included a $19,000 pay hike for deputy chief-administrative officer for external funding LaSeine Hilliard to bring her salary in line with that of her male counterparts— deputy CAOs Marshand Crisler and Aaron Banks—Yarber said. Each deputy will earn $71,838.96 per year under the amended budget.

In addition, the city clerk's office received $27,000 more to make current part-time employees full-time with benefits as well as to provide what Yarber called "small raises" for existing clerk staffers.

The meeting grew noticeably tense late in the meeting when Yarber indicated that he would not move forward with a pay increase for city workers earning the minimum wage the city council passed recently.

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.

Instead, Yarber suggested a feasibility study be done, arguing that the increase would break the city's bank. The move seemed to blindside the six members who attended. Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon lambasted Yarber's refusal to implement the council's action, which she called historic.

"If the council can be ignored on something like this, then what are we doing here?," she asked.

Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester Jr., who chairs the Budget Committee, was also displeased but offered a compromise in order to meet the legal requirement to get the budget today.

Priester instructed Yarber's administration to find a way to implement the minimum-wage hike or the council would come back later and take back money that is now going to department heads and other top-tier staff members.

The budget passed 5-to-1. Ward 3 Councilwoman LaRita Cooper-Stokes voted no; Ward 1 Councilman Quentin Whitwell did not attend the meeting. The council can revise the budget through the end of the month.

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