By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Mayor Percy Bland has sent the Meridian City Council a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year that calls for no new taxes.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Bland said the general fund will be $34.8 million, a 2 percent increase over the 2012-2013 budget; and the water and sewer funds will be approximately $15 million.
"Today we have provided a proposed 2013-2014 balanced budget with no tax increases," Bland said. "We went from $37 million to $34 million in this budget. There are some things that some department heads did not get but we made some tough decisions."
Bland credited much of the success of coming up with the budget to Ed Skipper, chief financial officer and Curt Goldacker, chief administrative officer.
Bland said they were still able to budget for some of the things that were requested, but not everybody in the city was happy with the things that didn't get approved for purchase.
Bland said two other factors will influence the final budget; the report of the assessed value of property in the city, which will determine how much money a mill will bring. A mill is one-thousandth of one dollar. Property taxes are based on the value of the property after the city sets the millage rate, which is currently 118.99 mills. That includes the city school district and the Meridian Community College millage rates. Property values may fluctuate from year to year, so what one mill brings in one year may not be exactly the same amount the next year. Currently the city is awaiting property value assessments from Lauderdale County Tax Assessor James Rainey.
"We're anticipating those numbers to maybe be slightly higher which would help us in our proposed budget," Bland said. "We don't know at this time."
Another cost factor will be the carrier of the city employees health insurance plans. The city is considering changing its policy and has narrowed the choices down to two companies, Bland said.
Bland's plan to raise minimum wage full time employees and those making less than $9 per hour up to $9 per hour is in the budget, but an across the board increase of 2 1/2 percent is not in the proposed budget.
"That's something we are going to look at mid-year but a two and a half cost of living adjustment is not in this budget," Bland said.
There has been a lot of talk about pay promised by the mayor to new department heads, but Bland said looking at the overall budget, the salaries have increased only about $6,000 or .05 percent.
That's an overall salary increase from $13,678,000 to $13,685,000, Bland said.
"Now fringe benefits went up about $330,000 because there has been an increase in our match from the PERS system, which we cannot control. That's the state side."
That' a total of a 2.5 percent increase in salaries and benefits, he said.
Cutting the original proposed budget by $3 million meant delaying some major equipment purchases, according to Bland.
"We did still get some of the equipment for Public Works," Bland said. "At the end of the day, every department had to look at itself and make some adjustments. There were some tough choices that had to be made."
The budget also will fund the hiring of eight additional police officers, Bland said.
The Meridian City Council will discuss the budget and other issues this morning at 9 during a work session.