The budget process has begun for the City of Hazlehurst. Although it looks like money will be tight, Mayor Henry Banks told the crowd at last Tuesday’s budget hearing that he hopes to avoid a tax increase this year.
“We will make every effort not to raise taxes,” said Banks, “even to the point we have to cut back in our departments.”
According to the budget requests received from city department heads, the budget would be $366,000 in the red. That won’t happen, according to the mayor.
“I won’t sign a budget that’s not balanced,” he said. He cautioned department heads to expect cuts, and there will be no money for raises, at least not until next calendar year.
City officials could not offer details on the budget yet, such as dollar amounts, because they have not yet received the millage rate from the county or the official millage request from the school district. Banks pointed out that the city does not control those things.
The city’s sales tax income has increased in the past year, and the mayor expressed his thanks that more people are shopping and spending money in Hazlehurst.
But these increases in revenue are not enough to offset the increases in expenses. The mayor outlined several anticipated burdens on the next budget year. Health insurance premiums will go up $62 per month per employee. The city also earned negligible bank interest over the past year. Officials will be looking at a property purchase to expand the city’s landfill, which will reach the end of its life expectancy next year. This land purchase is expected to cost about $30,000. City Hall’s ongoing roof problems will need to be addressed soon due to the danger of rotting walls, at an estimated cost of $50,000. The roof repairs are complicated by the fact that the air conditioners are located on the roof.
“We are not increasing taxes no matter what,” said Banks, “but at the same time we will have a balanced budget.”
Katrina Castilaw of the Copiah-Jefferson Regional Library System discussed budget matters briefly with the board, pointing out various grants and projects ongoing at the library.
The Hazlehurst branch has seen a significant increase in library use over the past year, she said. Additional outlets are needed to accommodate the increased number of patrons who bring their laptops to the library.
The library expects a cut in state funding in the new budget. Further budget cuts may result in a reduction of hours or will affect library services in some other way.
The library has received federal grants for a children’s literacy program as well as equipment for the visually impaired, Castilaw told the board.
Alderman Rick Akin cautioned the other officials not to forget about the sizeable investment that has been made at the city industrial park. The county has agreed to provide $20,000 in-kind services as part of the ten percent match required for a $500,000 grant, which leaves the city to come up with $30,000.
“I know money’s tight, but there are some things we can’t take off the table and forget about, and I think this is one of them,” said Akin.
Expansion of industry at the park is expected to produce 30 to 40 jobs.
Alderman Frank Jones asked how many of the new jobs will go to Hazlehurst citizens. “I don’t mind investing in business like that, but if they are not hiring people from this area, it’s like we’re putting money in a running creek,” Jones said.
Alderman Shirley Sandifer reminded the other officials that there are sewage and drainage problems affecting many citizens in the city. Grants to correct these problems will also require matches.
Alderman Daryl McMillian asked if a reduction in the city’s workforce should be expected in the new budget. Alderman Ron Sims added that a hiring freeze might be necessary. Mayor Banks replied that that is a consideration. There are several vacancies at the moment which have not been filled. “And they have not been filled for a reason,” said Banks. But he added that he hopes to avoid layoffs.
The mayor pointed out that other cities seem to be in as bad a shape or worse than Hazlehurst. “Hopefully there will be an upswing in the economy,” said Banks. “It’s my plan to maintain at present. But we can’t make any definite promises until we get the final figures.”
NO PERMANENT GARBAGE RECEPTACLES
In other business, the board approved the ordinance banning permanent garbage receptacles from curbsides. Exceptions will be made for businesses which rent dumpsters. Owners are responsible for removing permanent receptacles or the city will give a citation and notice to remove within 10 days or the city will remove them.