For the first time in 10 years, the City of Hattiesburg has officially adopted a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2020-2021 that gives raises to some city employees, although residents in the Hattiesburg Public School District will see a very slight increase on their property taxes.
The budget, which was proposed at a recent Hattiesburg City Council meeting, was passed by council members 5-0 during a Sept. 15 special-called meeting. It features a total millage of 119.21 – up from last year’s 117.2, with the increase going to the school district – which would mean a yearly increase of approximately $19.80 on a home worth $100,000.
“This has taken a lot of work to get to this point, and for the first balanced budget in 10 years, a lot of hard decisions went into it,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “For the fourth straight year, we had a unanimous vote on this budget, which reflects the shared values that we have between city council and administration.
“This takes steps for infrastructure, it balances the budget, and we’re in the best place financially that we have been in some time. It also takes major steps for our city employees, and so in the midst of everything we have going on this year, this is certainly a highlight.”
The proposed budget is set at approximately $150.93 million. Of that, an estimated $54.74 million will go to the general fund, $24.68 million will go to special revenues, $36.78 million will go to capital projects, and $54.52 million will go to water and sewer.
About $25.6 million is subtracted from the budget for transfers.
Barker said perhaps the toughest decision the city made in the budget process was the decision to reduce the city’s workforce earlier this year because of the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In those reductions, 67 positions were eliminated; of those, 28 were filled at the time.
“Come budget time, some of those employees have been hired back; this restores a few of those positions as well,” Barker said. “But ultimately, by attrition, we were able to eliminate a lot of those costs on the personnel side while also reinvesting in wages for our employees. This was a team effort.”
Some employee pay raise measures include raising the minimum wage in the Water and Sewer Department to $14 an hour, raising the minimum wage in Parks and Recreation and Public Works to $12 an hour, and raising the minimum wage for bus drivers and sanitation drivers to $15 an hour.
“All of those things are tangible, concrete steps that we’ve worked over the last three and a half years to do,” Barker said.
The budget also includes a large allotment for infrastructure.
“We’ll have another good year in paving,” Barker said. “Already, in just three years, we’ve spent 60 percent more than the previous entire term. Every ward now has had over a million dollars spent to update streets.”
Special revenue funds include $3.5 million for parks and recreation, $3.61 million for special sales tax funds, $970,000 for the Internet sales tax fund and $184,000 for special street improvements. About $7.85 million is set aside for municipal roads and bridges, followed by $3.95 million for mass transit and $2.38 million for community development block grants.
Capital projects funds include $2,302 for Kamper Park improvements, $33.6 million for the upcoming Hattiesburg Public Safety Complex and $3.17 million for construction of the new fire station on U.S. 49. The general fund includes $9.3 million for administrative, $12.8 million for police and academy, $9.3 million for fire and $12.9 million for public services.
The proposed millage of 119.21 includes 58.33 mills for the general fund, 58.33 mills for school district maintenance, 2 mills for parks and recreation, 1.95 mills for municipal bonds and interest, and 4.5 mills for police and fire retirement.
Connie Everett, the city’s interim chief financial officer, said the school district’s millage increase is not caused by the district asking for an increase, as the district is asking for the same dollar amount as last year.
“For Fiscal Year 2020, the assessed valuation for the school district portion actually decreased, so the levy was not sufficient to produce the dollars that they requested,” she said. “For Fiscal Year 2021, the initial roll I had for the school district area had very little growth in it; essentially a mill is going to be worth the same as it was for Fiscal Year 2020. With their dollar request being the same, there’s no way the same millage was going to produce their request for Fiscal Year 2021.”