HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg City Council approved a .64 millage increase and received a general overview of the budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year in a special called meeting Wednesday.
"We are having a .5 increase on the general fund," said Council President Carter Carroll. "That is for the new police station that we agreed to do over a year ago. Then there is a .14 millage increase, and that is for the police and fire department's retirement fund, which we need to fund. We didn't really have a choice on that."
The increase will bring Hattiesburg's millage rate up from 49.52 mills to 50.16 mills. A Hattiesburg resident with a $100,000 home can expect to pay about $501.60 in property taxes, which is a $6.40 increase from last year.
"The policemen and fire department (retirement funding) was mandatory, and then of course we already agreed to build the police station," Carroll said.
Carroll said approving a millage rate Wednesday was essential to keep the council on track to vote on a budget by a state mandated Sept. 15 deadline. If it is adopted on Sept. 15, the budget would then effect on Oct. 1.
"In order to keep that time frame going, we have to have a published public hearing," Carroll said. "In order to do that, meet those guidelines, we had to come up with a millage rate for the upcoming budget, so we can post that. Then, we can work on the rest of the budget later."
Councilperson Kim Bradley said, "We've never been this late. Let's tell it like it is."
Hattiesburg Chief Financial Officer Sharon Waits presented the council a 2017 budget with an estimated ending cash balance of $2,210,530, with the city taking in $52,382,000 and spending $50,172,000. Waits said that budget does not include capital requests from city departments, salary increases for city employees or paving, and she asked the council to wait to approve the budget until it was complete.
"We have never had a year in which we had 6 new TIFs coming on," Waits said. "We have never had a year (with) a wastewater treatment project. We have never had a year in which we were financing a $25 million, $38 million police complex. We have never had a year in which the CFO had the workload on them that - we are doing historic things in the City of Hattiesburg. There is only one of me, and there are only so many things I can do in a 12-hour-day."
Waits said there is no penalty for missing the Sept. 15 deadline as long as the council has a final budget in place by Oct. 1, but rather than waiting to vote on the city's millage rate, Carroll said the council could approve millage and continue to adjust the budget.
"We do have a precedent on this," he said. "We had spent months and months and months back in 2005. We had a rock solid budget. Katrina hit on August 29. On September 15 when we were sitting in this meeting, I held up that budget and I said, 'We are going to pass this budget because by law, we have to. But if anybody thinks that this is what's going to be spent this year, you're crazy.' And we went back, and we rewrote the budget because of Katrina. We can do the same thing. We can take care of our obligation to the state. We can take care of our obligation to our taxpayers, and we can work and take our time with the departments. We don't need to put a two-week or three-week focus on that because, like you said, you're overwhelmed. We don't need to do that. We need to do this correctly, and we can take care of our legal obligations. We can take care of the taxpayers, and we can take care of this budget all in the same manner."
Other portions of the budget Waits presented that haven't been finalized yet include increasing salaries by 50 cents per hour for all city employees starting in April, increasing recent fire academy graduate salaries from $27,600 to $30,000, increasing salaries for sworn firefighters by $1,500 to match raises given to the police department during the current administration's time in office, increasing the mayor's salary to $110,000 and increasing city council members' salaries to $25,000.
The council will meet Monday, Aug. 22 at 8 a.m. to, according to Carroll, approve the notice of publication to set a public hearing for the budget. The council will vote to approve or deny a final budget in a meeting after a public hearing.