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‘Stell Magnolias’ question leaders at public hearing

By Bonnie L. Jackson
News Editor
Mayor Henry C. Banks and the Board of Aldermen were given an earful about the 2011-2012 budget from a small, but vocal  of citizens on August 23.
They were few in number, but  those who attended the public hearing for the city budget vocalized their discontent with the management of the city’s resources.
“This is your opportunity to let us know what you want. We are here to listen,” encouraged Mayor Banks.
Betty Keywood a former employee of the city and a lifelong resident of Hazlehurst, questioned the current policies and practices regarding personnel, health insurance for retirees, and a city truck.
Keywood’s focus was on eliminating and or reducing waste. “I understand that we have a grants person on the staff who is being paid a monthly salary of $900 who doesn’t do much work,” Keywood continued.
When we worked we worked. We did it by hand and with typewriters. Now everything is on the computer. You have two full-time and one part-time employees for the city and the water department,” Keywood charged.
“We understand that some retirees work so many days a month and get a paycheck,” Keywood protested.
“They (retirees) are allowed to work 20 hours a month,” Mayor Banks replied.
“You pay health insurance for some retirees, but not for all retirees. That money could be used to give pay raises to the full-time employees,” continued Keywood.
“I see where you bought a Dodge Charger for the fire chief. What about the one truck for Pickering?  He doesn’t work all month, does he need it? Give it to the fire chief,” Keywood concluded.
Genevieve Harris took up the cause by protesting the raising of taxes. “I own property in the county and the city. I think you should consider hiring a qualified business manager to see if what you are doing is legal. I agree with what Betty has stated.
The ladies drove their point home by challenging the $3.54 million tax increase being levied by the city.
Alderwoman Shirley Sandifer, Ward 3, stated  “this is not the city raising taxes. In the six years that I have been on the board, we have never raised taxes.  The school is asking for this. We have no other choice but to raise the taxes.”
Alderman Rick Akin, Ward 5, clarified a statement that the board had to approve the request.  “That use to be the case, but not anymore. The state legislature changed that.”
The citizens were concerned about the further hardship this would place on the citizens who can not pay their taxes or buy their car tags.  Harris cited the 268 parcels for Hazlehurst and the 2,010 parcels for the county that have past due taxes as an example of the economic hardship this would be for some citizens.
Keywood invited the mayor to the Ward 2 Neighborhood Watch Meeting.
After that exchange, Mayor Banks asked for other comments. When there were none, he requested a  motion for the Budget Hearing Meeting on September 6 at 6:00 p.m.; and the meeting was adjourned. 

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