City divisions merge under budget plan

Starkville residents can expect a slightly higher sanitation bill after the Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to combine several departments under one umbrella.
Beautification and landscape services will now operate under the Sanitation Department, thereby increasing the standard residential sanitation fee by $2.50 for a total monthly charge of $13.
The idea was proposed by Mayor Parker Wiseman a year ago and since then has been both championed and opposed by other board members.
The board approved it Tuesday with a 4-2 vote with Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn and Ward 6 Aldermen Roy Á. Perkins voting against the measure
While Perkins argued that there seems to be no logical reason for the regrouping, Wiseman said it would unnatural to separate landscaping and landfill operations from the sanitation department.
Additionally, the city approved higher wages for city employees who are under federal
poverty levels and made it a policy to do so every year — both actions also opposed by Perkins.
It also addressed unequal pay among city employees, which was opposed by Perkins and Vaughn, who called the action unfair.
When asked, Personnel Director Randy Boyd said he preferred seeing an across-the-board cost of living adjustment before he would an equity adjustment.
Vice mayor and budget chair Sandra Sistrunk said that an across-the-board salary adjustment would cost the city $90,000 more than it could afford at this point in time.
“The money is just not there, in my opinion,” she said.
Salary inequities, however, naturally arise with compensation plans and continue at a fixed percentage rate if not addressed.
“These are people who are not paid consistently with their peers,” Sistrunk said, explaining that some department heads are paid less than their subordinates.

Tax increase

On the table for next week is consideration of a .45-mill tax increase, which would generate about $80,000 to help staff the new Fire Station No. 5 and begin to address a $2 million depletion over 3 years of the city’s ending fund balance, which is now only about $200,000, and provide a contingency fund.
Sistrunk, who did much of the work to put the budget together, presented it again on Tuesday during a public hearing on the tax increase. She received support from Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver last month, but on Tuesday, he recused himself from budget discussions.
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas, however, said he thought the city should have raised taxes last year.
“Job well done,” he said, referring to Sistrunk’s budget proposal.
As expected, Perkins publicly disapproved of the tax increase, as he has promised he would during meetings last month.
“It’s my opinion that no tax increase is needed for the upcoming budget,” said Perkins, proposing a budget that would allow for a 1.75 percent increase in employee salaries and cut funding for outside agencies except for the Starkville and Oktibbeha County Library, the Oktibbeha County Humane Society and the OCH Regional Medical Center.
Vaughn concurred with Perkins, stating that the poor would suffer from a tax increase. But many citizens who attended the meeting had different beliefs.
Describing the budget as “bleeding,” members of the public, some who consider themselves to be fiscally conservative, entreated the board to raise taxes.
Former Vice Mayor Mary Lee Beal described the current administration’s budget situation as a result of the sins its fathers, sharing some of the blame.
“I was a part of that,” she said, later explaining that she lacked mutual support from her colleagues for a tax increase.
Richard Mullenax asked Perkins why he didn’t attend the Board of Supervisors meeting to protest their decision to raise the millage rate by 4.48 mils — a decision that affects city residents.
“We cannot levy taxes based on the poorest man’s ability to pay,” Milo Burnham said.
Chris Taylor, however, supported Perkins’ plan, which was based on more positive revenue projections than what the city clerk’s office presented.
The board will meet again on Sept. 15 to make a final decision on the budget.

Editor’s note: Other actions by the Board of Aldermen, including discussion on the sidewalk ordinance, will be reported in Thursday’s edition of the Starkville Daily News.