By Ida Brown / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
Support was strong for Mayor Percy Bland's proposed department head salaries – particularly chief of police – as well as increase for minimum wage salary employees during a public hearing Tuesday by the Meridian City Council.
Local residents as well as city employees arrived early for the meeting in which council members listened but did not respond to comments by the 13 presenters. The mayor was out of town.
Ward 1 Councilman and Council President George Thomas began the meeting by noting that information was still unavailable on what the mil of tax would provide for the city.
"We will pass a balanced budget, depending on what the milage figures are," Thomas said.
Last month, the mayor's staff presented the council a budget $3.2 million more than the previous year – an amount questioned by most of the council members. The budget has been cut, however final figures have not been presented.
Among proposed items are:
• An increase in the number of police in the city of Meridian.
• An increase in the number of police positions inside the city.
• A raise for minimum-wage employees – from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour.
• An increase in funding for the Public Works Department.
However proposed salaries for department heads – police chief, fire chief, finance and records, Homeland Security, Community Development, Public Works, Parks and Recreation and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) – have received the most attention.
As some of the presenters made impassioned pleas on why the salary increases were necessary, they also came equipped with facts and figures.
Johnnie Delk said that with the proposed health care plan for the city's employees, United HealthCare, $280,000 would be saved.
"We would have enough money to save on salaries," she said.
Delk also provided council members salary comparisons for police chiefs in Madison, Tupelo, Ridgeland, Pascagoula and Vicksburg. The proposed salary for Chief James Lee is $85,000 annually.
"Compared to other salaries, this is nothing compared to people who are going to do a good job. You asked for a person who is well-educated and knows what they are doing. Therefore, you're going to have to pay for what you get," she said.
Public Works employee David Nichols asked the council to not forget the department's employees.
"We work long hours and do hard work. When the weather is bad and trees fall and block the streets or the streets are flooded, we're the ones who have to come and work all those hours," NIchols said. "We feel looked over, as if we don't exist."
Another presenter stressed the necessity to provide more funding for Homeland Security. To date, $200,000 has been proposed, which also includes the salary of Bunky Partridge, who has been appointed director at $85,000 annually. He noted that fewer funds would have a direct impact on Homeland Security, particularly the Police Training Academy.
"Our police and fire departments go there to train; they don't have to go to Jackson or somewhere else," he said.
Probably the most visible force at the meeting was the city's Employees Council, who occupied several rows of seats. Kevin Locke, senior planner for the city of Meridian who also serves as president of the group, addressed the council.
"It's ironic that we're talking about these salaries being raised from $7.25 to $9. If you look at the classification list for the city of Meridian, no one in the city makes $7.25, it's all above that. The problem here seems to be that we're always stuck on the minimum; that salary range on the lowest is $15,238 up to $22,857. If we were meeting somewhere in the middle, we wouldn't be discussing this $5 living wage. The issue is we're always at the bottom; we come in at the minimum and there are no incentives to move up ... We shouldn't be begging; we are a good dedicated work force, highly-skilled professionals."