August 2, 2013 10:11:31 AM
Starkville Parks Commission Chairman Dan Moreland presented two budget proposals Thursday which he said ask the city to either foot a sizable portion of the autonomous board's electric bills or increase SPC's budget by about 2 mill's worth of general operating funds.
Moreland also alluded to a perceived anti-Parks stance by the previous administration and told the city's audit and budget committee -- Mayor Parker Wiseman and the entire seven-person board of alderman -- that budget cuts enacted by the previous administration created financial issues for SPC.
A copy of one SPC budget proposal obtained by the Dispatch shows Parks is requesting $1.18 million from the city's general operating budget, an increase of $334,000 from level funding it previously received. The proposal listed a $275,000 line item request for utilities compared to the $195,000 SPC was budgeted for the same expense last fiscal year.
A copy of the second budget was unavailable to the Dispatch at press time. At least two aldermen were overheard saying they had difficulty making sense of the proposals after SPC's presentation.
Moreland told aldermen that SPC's monthly operating budget had been cut over the past years from $76,000 to $70,000. Wiseman engaged Moreland's claim head on, saying the city's past three years of general contributions to SPC remained flat at $844,400 per year.
"We're talking about the $70,000 that we have to operate on monthly," Moreland said referring to the decreased monthly operating budget.
"That's where this comes from. This is your operational transfer from the city," Wiseman rebutted.
"We have money - two percent (funds) that you can't spend on certain things. We can't use that money for certain things," Moreland countered. "I'm not here to argue with you; I'm just here to present this to the board."
If the budget committee enacts the request identified by the Dispatch - aldermen took no action on the matter Thursday and are expected to continue discussions on all city financials through the month - the city would have to find extra money in its existing line items, experience an uptick in revenues or levy a tax increase. One mill of ad valorem property tax brings in about $190,000.
"When you look at this budget, just keep an open mind. Had this money that was taken away by the past administration been added to it, we'd be perfect," Moreland told aldermen.
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins applauded Moreland for his management of SPC and said he was not in favor of cutting any services provided by the department. In the board's first budget meeting with department heads, Perkins said he would not favor any proposed tax increase.
"We just have to find ways and means within our budget just like we do with other departments," he said. "Personally, I've watched the parks over the course of my 20 years on the board. I think they're managed very well, in my opinion. The parks are a great service for our kids and others in our city, and our kids are our future. We have to provide meaningful things and activities for them."
SPC's financial woes became an election issue this year after its previous fiscal year audit revealed numerous budgeting concerns. Documents associated with a June internal city report stated procedural gaps exist with the entities electric bill payments, and accounts were shown to be beyond the 45-day legal payment window.
The Dispatch reported in May that SPC is estimated to owe $180,000 for overdue fees and forecasted usage through the fiscal year. The city's internal report also charted the department's exhausted FY 2013 2 percent food and beverage budget. In May, $12.35 remained in that budget for the fiscal year.
Wiseman defeated Moreland, the city's former GOP mayoral candidate, in the June 4 general election.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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