The Meridian City Council on Tuesday voted to tighten control over the city’s finances by moving funds set aside for unfilled positions from salaries to the legislative budget. The move defunds all vacancies within the city with the exception of the police and fire departments.
Ward 2 Alderman Dwayne Davis, who proposed the move, said he felt the council needed more control over the way money was spent. The purpose of the funds would not change. The money, he said, would be reallocated for new hires when needed.
“We’re not taking the money home. We’re not saying we’re not going to hire anybody,” he said. “The only thing we’re saying is we want to move the money to legislative.”
Davis said the city council is tasked with controlling the budget and managing the city’s finances. The move, he said, was an effort to give the council a way to fulfill its mission.
Chief Administration Officer Tim Miller said the council already has multiple ways to manage expenses. The move, he said, was not how the city’s finances were designed to function.
“You’re approving what you already approved in the budget for last year. You’re just going ahead and bringing it back, but you already approved it in the budget,” he said. “Keep in mind also that over 40 of these positions that’s projected to be moved are already in process, so we really don’t need to mess with that part of it. It’s an incredibly inefficient way to do things. You already have a way to monitor spending every month, every two weeks. It’s your prerogative, but it’s just really not an efficient way to operate. It’s to how it’s designed. It’s not what your paying people to do.”
Chief Financial Officer Brandye Latimer told the council that moving the funds would slow down the hiring process. Additionally, she said the funds could accidentally be spent on something else.
“It’s not your best way to budget because it can get intermingled,” she said. “There may be money that was set aside for public works to go to salaries but it gets used for projects down the road.”
Ward 1 Alderman George Thomas, who spoke against the measure, suggested waiting until January to see which positions had not been filled. Moving unfilled position funds then, he said, wouldn’t be as disruptive to the city’s finances.
Moving the funds back, Thomas said, would require a budget change for each new hire. By waiting, he said the positions are less likely to be filled, and fewer changes would be needed.
The motion was passed by a 3-2 vote. Thomas and Ward 5 Alderwoman Ty Bell Lindsey voted against the move. Davis, Ward 3 Alderman Joseph Norwood and Ward 4 Alderwoman Romande Walker voted yes.
In other business, the Meridian City Council:
•Approved appointing Jimmy Copeland to the Meridian Airport Authority;
•Approved applying for a Solid Waste Assistance Grant from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality
•Approved a service agreement with Waste Pro to hold Household Hazardous Waste Day Oct. 23. Costs are capped at $9,230;
•Accepted LPK Architect’s qualifications for the Frank Cochran Center project; and,
•Approved a lighting services lease agreement with Mississippi Power for bollards and lights outside the Threefoot Building.