Wednesday, September 12, 2007
After several stalled attempts, Jackson Mayor Frank Melton presented an overview of his revised budget to the City Council at a Monday evening work session. The new budget, which must be approved by Sept. 15, does not contain the $2.6 million tax increase of the old budget, but does recommend some painful cuts.
The budget adjustment eagerly snatches up an extra $1.2 million discovered by Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon last week, but does not address Melton's recommendation of $1 million in cuts to JATRAN, and an additional $800,000 cut from Parks and Recreation. The budget would freeze city employee raises and new city hires, as well as halt staff increases in the already short-staffed Community Policing division.
The budget adjustment still calls for a short-term re-funding of the city's debt, as well as the privatizing of the city's golf courses and the elimination of mayoral staff positions like mayoral Administrative Assistant Clara Spencer ($37,000 annually) and Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Carolyn Redd ($73,800 annually). Redd, Melton's sister-in-law from Texas, has announced that she is taking a job with WAPT.
The new budget still calls for the 9.5 percent increase in monthly water bills and the 5 percent increase in sewer fees advocated in the last budget, but also contains a $200,000 reduction of the city's $750,000 tort claims fund, suggested by council members last week.
In addition, the new budget anticipates saving about $500,000 if the council agrees to repeal an earlier vote to waive one-time fees for new businesses opening in the downtown area.
Melton said he also wants to close the budget gap by chasing $10 million in outstanding municipal fines. The mayor promised arrests and incarceration of anybody with outstanding fines, and vowed to garnish the wages of city employees with any fines. Employees, in particular, will have until Oct. 1 to pay any fines or risk garnishment and arrest.
Council President Leslie McLemore and Barrett-Simon called the mayor's pursuit of municipal fines "pot of gold" money.
"These are not real dollars," Barrett-Simon said. "These are projected dollars. Historically, the city has gone back to municipal court revenue as some kind of pot of gold, but historically, we've never been able to collect it."
Melton fell through on his pronouncement to deliver a new budget proposal last Friday—and didn't show up for city budget meetings that day. The mayor proposed the new budget only after council members taunted him for breaking with his old budget on certain key points, such as a $2.6 million tax increase.
McLemore chided the mayor for breaking with his budget early last week.
"f you say the tax increase is off the table, that's fine, but the budget here has the tax increase in it," McLemore said. "… Please, sir, capture (that) in the budget."
This is not the first time the inconsistent Melton has parted ways with his own budget team. The mayor similarly rejected the recommendations of his own administration in 2006 and disavowed a budget with his signature on it hours ahead of submitting it to the council.
Melton is eager to throw responsibility for the budget upon the part-time council members.
"It is not my budget," Melton asserted. "We run this city. I don't run this city, and we just have to come to grips with that," Melton said, explaining that he had intended for the council to meet with department heads and help bang out a budget, instead of following the city protocol of submitting a completed budget to the council to tweak and approve.
McLemore could not resist giving the mayor a civics lesson upon hearing this.
"Mr. Mayor, one of your primary responsibilities … as mayor is to shepherd this budget and deal with this budget. That's much more important than you going out and doing some of the other things you do…," he said.
Ward 6 Councilman Marshand Crisler took serious issue, on Monday, with the administration's lack of information regarding the final cost of temp staff for this fiscal year. "I want to know everybody we're paying, and how much we're paying, and you can get us that and we want that, and we don't even want to debate this anymore," Crisler said of the temporary employee list.
Chief Administration Officer Robert Walker said the administration had already complied with council information requests, referring to two pages, one contained a list of temp agencies and another a list of positions and what they pay per hour, but no names of workers and no total payouts.
"But we have the hourly wages of temp workers on that list (we gave you)," Walker protested. "It's a simple matter of calculating. … Traditionally, when you calculate wages on an annual basis you take the hourly salary and multiply that by 28."
Crisler remained adamant. "t's not that simple," he said. "Some people work overtime. Some people work a lot more hours than you care to share with us. We need to know that. We need the total payment that went out to every temporary and contractual employee in the city of Jackson."
Council members suspect the administration paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to temporary workers, many hand-picked by Melton, such as Fredrica Brunson (aka Jermaine Bulter) and Michael Taylor, two young men with armed-robbery warrants who the mayor hid from the Hinds County sheriff and the district attorney last year until they were seen on TV at a barbecue at the mayor's North Jackson home, where at least one of them was living.
Walker said he would present a more thorough list, including paid wages, job duties and names, to the council by Tuesday evening.
“It is not my budget,” Melton asserted. “We run this city. I don’t run this city, and we just have to come to grips with that,” Melton said, explaining that he had intended for the council to meet with department heads and help bang out a budget, instead of following the city protocol of submitting a completed budget to the council to tweak and approve. Okay, one minute he says that he runs this city, and then, when the chips are down, he doesn't run this city? Which is it? Council members suspect the administration paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to temporary workers, many hand-picked by Melton, such as Fredrica Brunson (aka Jermaine Bulter) and Michael Taylor, two young men with armed-robbery warrants who the mayor hid from the Hinds County sheriff and the district attorney last year until they were seen on TV at a barbecue at the mayor’s North Jackson home, where at least one of them was living. You just have to bring that up, don't you? LOL
Does anyone believe Robert Smith when he says: "We came in with a balanced budget that had no layoffs, no tax increase," Chief Administrative Officer Robert Walker said. "When the council finished with it, it became their budget and included layoffs." I don't! If so, publish your 'balanced budget' so we can see. But, I'm sure this is another Meltonian sound bite that the morning guys and Ledge editors will lap up and regurgitate so they can try to disparage the City Council. Same old, same old....
Have we ever discovered how Higginbottom (sp.) is paid? And how much he is paid? Is he able to continue working under the new budget or is he part of the lay-offs? Did I hear somewhere that the Mayor's Adminstrative Assistant (Secretary) is being let go? If so, that's a shame. There are others in his office (or control) that should go first!