Hattiesburg approves $145 million budget; some employees to get pay raises

By HASKEL BURNS,

After several years of what Mayor Toby Barker called “structural imbalances” in the city’s budget, Hattiesburg officials have finalized and adopted a Fiscal Year 2020 budget that improves department equipment and gives raises to several city employees without raising residents’ taxes.

The budget, which was presented last week by Interim Chief Financial Officer Connie Everett, was approved 5-0 Sept. 12 during a special-called meeting of Hattiesburg City Council and will take effect Oct. 1.

The Fiscal Year 2020 budget is totaled at approximately $145.63 million, down from last year’s figure of $182. 08 million. That includes $55.63 million in the general fund, $4.09 million in debt services, $28.14 million in capital projects and $61.94 million in water and sewer.

“It took us several years to get here, but we took another step in the right direction, bringing that structural deficit down to $2.47 million,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “It’s a budget that overcomes the fact that we lost $1.2 million in one-time revenue when (Federal Emergency Management Agency) reimbursement came in.

“It prioritizes infrastructure – because of the 1-cent (sales tax increase) passing back in April, we were able to devote $400,000 of our parks and recreation budget over to drainage infrastructure, which we know we need. We also increased the paving budget by $200,000, bringing our total paving budget to $2.7 million.”

The budget also makes room for several city employee pay raises, including raising sanitation drivers’ salaries to $14 an hour, raising the minimum wage in the Water and Sewer Department to $13 an hour, and raising the minimum wage for crew workers in the Public Works Department to $11 an hour.

“It’s not where we want to be, but we’re taking steps to make sure that we’re raising salaries for employees and making departments more efficient, and we’re trying to provide more cost-effective services,” Barker said. “So while this is slightly down from last year in terms of the general fund, we’re continuing to climb out of our financial challenges, and we’re looking forward to the work that we’re going to have to put in over the next couple of years to truly get back to structural balance.”

Capital projects funds include $28.14 million to the upcoming Hattiesburg Public Safety Complex and $2.25 million to improvements at Kamper Park. The new budget allocates approximately $9.70 million for administrative costs, $12.94 million for the police department and $9.36 million to the fire department. Code enforcement is budgeted for $940,362, while public services is allocated $14.2 million.

Millage will remain the same as last year, with a total levy of 117.23 mills. Included in that number if 41.83 mills to the general fund, 64.10 total mills to schools, 2 mills to parks and recreation and 4.75 mills to school bonds and interest.

“I’m proud that we are adopting a budget that prioritizes a number of things that are important to the city of Hattiesburg – some things that have been expressed to us as members of the council,” Ward 1 Councilman Jeffrey George said. “It’s giving raises to the employees who deserve it more than anything and not raising taxes, so I think that’s an accomplishment in itself, so thank you (to Everett).”

Although Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado voted in favor of the budget, she did express concerns about employee pay.

“In a system like ours, we should have come up with a process by now where division directors, for example, there is a formula for determining what directors earn,” she said. “Directors, in my estimation, should earn the same thing across the board.

“There should also be an equitable process by which people are paid based upon their experience and credentials, and not upon some things that I’m not able to grasp by looking at the information that I have been given. Over the years, I’ve been concerned about the inequity in what employees are paid, and I’m still seeing that.”

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