By Terri Ferguson Smith / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
With approximately $2 million yet to be cut from the city of Meridian's budget, Mayor Percy Bland would like to move on beyond the discussions of about $20,000 in department head salary increases and the appointment of a department head that had been unfilled.
At a budget work session Tuesday morning, Bland took questions from the Meridian City Council about the amount of salaries he agreed to pay the chief of police, director of Community Development and the director of Homeland Security. These were all new hires.
The police chief's salary went from $75,000 to $85,000, but according to figures provided by the mayor, the police chief who held the job in 2009 was making nearly $84,000.
In Community Development, the director's salary went from just over $89,000 during the John Robert Smith administration to $76,500 in the Cheri Barry administration. Bland has proposed the current salary at $86,000.
The Homeland Security chief was paid $77,600 during Smith's administration, but the job changed under Barry's administration. The director, Tim Miller, earned $75,000 until becoming CAO where he made $81,600. The Homeland Security director's job was left vacant and Miller continued handling those duties, as well as those of the CAO.
Other department head salaries proposed by Bland have stayed the same and one was reduced. Bland said looking at past salaries and at salaries of cities of comparable population to Meridian, he believes the numbers are in line. Moreover, he said, these are highly qualified professionals he has chosen to lead the departments and he expects them to make a difference.
"I stand by those salaries," Bland said. "In a year you will see what I am talking about."
Ward Three Councilwoman Barbara Henson asked Bland if Homeland Security was going to be able to pay for itself with grants and with the use of the Meridian Public Safety Training Facility.
Bland announced that Homeland Security has already been approved for a $75,000 Homeland Security training grant from the state. In addition, according to CAO Curt Goldacker, the training center will be used to train firemen who will be assigned to the Mississippi Power plant in Kemper County. Each group that trains there pays to do so, which will bring money into the city.
Discussions on Tuesday weren't limited to the pay of department head, however.
Councilmen Randy Hammon, Ward Five; Councilman Dustin Markham, Ward Two; and Councilwoman Kim Houston, Ward Four; all expressed concern over whether there would be sufficient money to pay for infrastructure needs, police protection, fire protection, redevelopment, and tearing down dilapidated houses in blighted areas.
Also on the table is a proposed 2.5 percent pay raise for city employees, which the council doesn't know if it will be able to fund. However, the council is in general agreement with the mayor that it will try to fund a pay increase for city employees who are making less than $9 per hour. Bland has proposed that anyone making less than $9 be brought up to that salary so they can earn a livable wage. The council pledged to fund that increase if at all possible. It would affect some 81 full-time city employees, Bland said.
With the clock ticking on the deadline to have a budget ready to approve, Ward One Councilman George Thomas reminded the council and the mayor that they still have a lot to do to get the budget set and approved by Oct. 1.
There is no penalty for missing the deadline, according to Ed Skipper, chief financial officer, but there are serious consequences.
"If we don't have a budget on Oct. 1, nobody gets paid — nobody," Skipper said. "Employees, vendors, nobody gets paid."
In addition, until the millage rate is set, Skipper said, the state can't calculate the rate needed for automobile tags, which provides some of the city's funds for operating expenses.