Petal budget passes 5-2; mayor plans to veto

By HASKEL BURNS,

After several rounds of discussion, the Petal Board of Aldermen has adopted a balanced Fiscal Year 2020 budget that is favored by the majority of board members and keeps the Parks and Recreation Department relatively intact by merging it with the athletic department.

But if Mayor Hal Marx vetoes the budget as planned, another vote could be held in which aldermen will determine whether to override that veto. The budget, which features approximately $8.607 million in both revenue and expenditures, was passed by a 5-2 vote during Tuesday’s board meeting, with Ward 4 Alderman Brad Amacker and Ward 5 Alderman Tony Ducker voting against the measure.

“I believe the budget spends too much without leaving us enough in reserve, and I think it sets us up on using one-time money that’s not going to be available next year,” Marx said. “So we’re going to have to wind up raising taxes – or that special-option sales tax is a possibility – but there will have to be some new revenue coming in next year to make up for this one-time money.

“I think it would be better not to do that, and just go ahead and live off of what we have this year and make those preparations. But the board has seen different, so I will use the power that the state gives me to veto it. I feel like they’re going to override it and pass it anyway, but at least I’ll have my say on it and get my point across.”

Amacker said he is against the budget because of the one-time money situation – which included a recent $100,000 donation to sports from Forrest County District 3 Supervisor Burkett Ross – and because the city has saved insufficient funds over the last budget year.

“Basically, we haven’t solved any problems; we’ve just kicked the can down the road and we’re going to be in the exact same position this time next year,” he said. “We’re continuing to fund everything we possibly can, and find every penny we can, to put into programs and not saving anything.

“My big fear is that we have a natural disaster – we’ve had a couple of tornadoes and a couple of floods. The way the (Mississippi Emergency Management Agency) model works is that we pay the bills and then MEMA reimburses us. So if you don’t have a rainy day fund when those rainy days come, then what are you going to do?”

Amacker said the current budget keeps the recreation and athletic departments intact and maintains the city’s partnership with the Petal Sports Association, although a few jobs in recreational maintenance have been reduced.

“They’re operating right now at a reduced number, and we’re not going to re-hire those positions,” he said. “So from a high of nine or 10 positions, they’re down to six or seven in the maintenance part of the recreation department, but not in the athletic department.

“The athletic director did retire, so that position was done away with by attrition – we did not replace it directly. We merged the two departments together – the athletic department and the recreation department are now under a single director, so we’ve done as much as we can to reduce the amount of the budget.”

Moore said he was in favor of the budget, in large part, because it is the first balanced budget the city has voted to adopt in the last four years. In addition, the city did not have to pull any money from beginning cash – which is essentially savings – which has not been the case the last few years.

“I feel that it gives the needed support to all our departments, (including) public safety, as well as funding a recreation department that maintains our agreement with the Petal Sports Association, while cutting out any excess we could,” he said. “There’s really not a lot of fluff in that budget – this year we ended up with about $788,000 in recreation.

“If you look back over the past 10 years, that department has averaged around $800,000 or so, even before we entered into our agreement with the Petal Sports Association. So I think we really have had to look at where we could cut from our expenses, and the recreation budget was the most non-essential function, and that was where we were able to make all the cuts for this coming budget year.”

The budget allocates approximately $2.295 million to the police department, $2.53 million to the fire department and $1.362 million to streets and highways. Property taxes will not increase under the budget, as city millage remains the same at 43.16 mills, in addition to 55 mills levied for school purposes.

State law provides a mayor 10 days to veto the budget after it has been approved by aldermen or council members, after which point the board has three days to meet and override the veto.

“By state law, we have to have a two-thirds majority to overturn that vote, which on a board of seven is five votes,” Moore said. “The motion passed 5-2 tonight, so if those votes stay the way they are, we could overturn a veto if the mayor decides to do that.”

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