August 15, 2013 10:41:34 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Before Starkville aldermen approached an almost 3-mill tax increase for rising expenses Tuesday, the board, spearheaded by Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins, approved a motion to increase Starkville Parks Commission's operating budget annually by almost $96,000.
Perkins, who numerous times this budgetary season said he was against raising taxes and voted against a millage increase notice in that meeting, led the effort to increase Parks' operating budget by $8,000 monthly beginning Oct. 1. His motion calls for the line item to continue through Fiscal Year 2014 "until further ordered by the board."
This action would raise SPC's general operating fund back to levels comparable to monies it received in 2010. Documents obtained by the Dispatch show its operating fund remained level at $909,405 from 2008-2010 but then dropped to $844,440 from 2011-2013.
The mill rate is based on "mills"; as each mill is one-thousandth of a currency unit, one mill is equivalent to one-tenth of a cent or $0.001. Property tax in dollar terms is calculated by multiplying the assessed property value and the mill rate and dividing by 1,000. As a property may be subject to tax by a number of different authorities, mill rates are set by each taxing authority so as to meet the revenue projections in their budgets.
Aldermen found themselves confronted by increased expenditures Tuesday, including a long-overdue pay raise for city employees; increased departmental and outside requests; and payments toward a new City Hall and Starkville Police Department's renovations.
When Ward 3 Alderman David Little asked where the city would find funding to pay for the increase, Perkins suggested zeroing two budgeted salaries for vacant positions: the chief administrative officer's and an assistant city planner's. Perkins said the two positions salaries would bring the city about $100,000 for the Parks increase. Unneeded benefits would push that total higher, he said.
The board's approval does not set SPC's raise or the positions' de-funding in stone, but it does create doubt over whether the board will fill former CAO Lynn Spruill's seat as the city's second in command.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, whose July motion relieved Spruill of her job, previously said he wanted a replacement to be versed in economic development despite the numerous entities the city and county pay for those efforts.
Aldermen have not set a time line for naming an interim CAO.
"If you don't like the way it pencils when making final budget, you can always revisit it," Mayor Parker Wiseman told aldermen Tuesday.
Later in the meeting, Maynard proposed a significant pay raise to address growing retention issues and salary disparity between comparable municipalities' rates. After he said the raises would set the table for a tax increase -- many aldermen blamed city hall payments for forcing the city into tax hike - Perkins motioned to implement a 1 percent raise that would tap into the city's ending fund balance to avoid a tax increase. Perkins' unsupported motion, which would have spread about $78,000 between employees annually, died at the table.
SPC Chairman Dan Moreland originally presented a budget proposal which increased his organization's general operating line item to $1.18 million, partly due to Parks' increased electric expenditures. The Dispatch first reported in May that SPC was estimated to owe about $180,000 for overdue fees and forecasted usage through September.
While the line item for general operations previously decreased, the prior administration increased SPC's overall budget - a combination of the general fund and the city's parks improvement line item - from 2008's $979,405 to this fiscal year's total of $1.02 million. SPC's park improvement fund has more than doubled since 2008, increasing from $70,000 to $180,000 annually. Monies from the improvement fund are not allowed for bill payments.
"Regardless of who the Parks chair is, the use of our parks has gone up," Maynard said.
Maynard is Ward 5's former Parks representative and a past SPC chairman.
"Go down there at any point in time; all of those parks are constantly being used. The (Sportsplex) opens at 5 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m.; that's where the additional usage is coming from," he said.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch