Hattiesburg City Council working on budget for new fiscal year

Hattiesburg City Council working on budget for new fiscal year
Source: WDAM

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - For Hattiesburg City Council, it's a race against the clock to put together a budget for the 2018 fiscal year, beginning October 1st.

"Well, we just have to make a lot of decisions a lot quicker than we normally do," said Council President Carter Carroll Monday.

Carroll said the budget process usually starts in June, but with an election year bringing a new mayor and some changes in administration, council will now have to work faster on the four-month process, getting it done in two.

Hattiesburg City Council heard budget presentations from four departments Monday: Administration, Water and Sewer, Park and Recreation and Urban Development.

Mayor Toby Barker told council it will be an "abbreviated, but robust conversation" on how to spend money in Hattiesburg.   Barker said the city will need to make up for some expenditures and promises already made.

"We have to do some things to try to make sure our cash flow or any cash balance is in a healthy place to start the next fiscal year with," Barker said.

Carroll said there may be more needs than the city has funds for, when it comes to department maintenance, service and necessary items.  Carroll said the city is still dealing with damage costs from January's EF-3 tornado.

"We're going to have to look at that because some of the damaged items may or may not be reimbursed and that will have to play into our decision," said Carroll.

Mayor Barker said he hoped the departments would consider holding out on things they may need, like damaged or old vehicles, to make up for FEMA reimbursements that may not have come in yet.

"Right now, our priority is trying to make sure we take care of our employees, that we address our infrastructure needs," Barker said.  "If there is an opportunity where we can go without a vehicle for a year, then I want us to to try to do that."

Debborah Delgado, representing Ward 2, brought up the issue of wages for city employees and asked nearly every department if raises had been worked into the budget presentations.

"The challenge that I have, though, is you have a person that's been there for 15 years, that's making $13 an hour. You understand what I'm saying, it doesn't make sense," Delgado said.  "We're not taking care of our most valuable assets and I need to see that."

Mayor Barker has said city employees are one of the most important parts of Hattiesburg, with customer service key to a functional city.  He said a new system for salary increase is necessary, but is something that will take time.

"We're trying to be incredibly transparent in how this budget develops," Barker said.  "I know in previous years they may not have had these out front budget hearings, we want to that to come."

Tuesday, City Council will hear budget presentations from five more departments: Fire, Police, Public Works, Court and Engineering.  Those presentations will take place after the regularly schedule council meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. at City Hall.