June 26, 2020 10:42:43 AM
WEST POINT -- Despite a projected decrease in revenue of $391,026 from Fiscal Year 2019-2020, West Point Mayor Robbie Robinson has proposed a city budget that includes no layoffs or furloughs of city employees.
Under the proposed 2020-2021 budget, which will be discussed at a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, total expenses will be reduced by a combined $368,625 from various departments. The budget surplus from the 2019-2020 fiscal year came out to $40,888, while the 2020-2021 surplus is projected at $18,487.
"A lot of work went into this," Ward 4 Selectman Keith McBrayer said.
The city has asked department heads to cut 10 percent of their budgets for Fiscal Year 2021, which starts July 1 (In Columbus and Starkville, fiscal years begin Oct. 1).
There are no plans to raise taxes either, Robinson said. The general city millage rate sits at 29.4 mills, while debt service sits at 6.4 mills.
While Robinson is optimistic West Point can execute a stable budget without furloughing or laying off any of the city's approximately 80 employees, he said changes may be necessary if the city's revenue doesn't meet projections.
"We can do that," Robinson said of proposing a budget without cutting jobs. "Unless, these are projected revenues just like any other budget, if they come in under that, we're going to have to address that issue. We don't think that we will as long as we can maintain these resources of revenue."
"The things we don't know about, we have to plan as best we can expecting a shortfall on the revenue side with all the shutdowns and restrictions," McBrayer said.
Robinson said no official hiring freeze is in place, but he's encouraging departments to hold off on new hires. Part of the optimism of getting through the year layoff-free stems from the city's tourism tax numbers. While the tourism tax, a 1-percent sales tax at restaurants and hotels, was down roughly 30 percent for March and April, sales tax revenue in April 2020 was up 27.9 percent compared to April 2019.
Earlier this week, Robinson told The Dispatch he instituted a policy where any purchase more than $500 by the mayor's office must be reviewed by the board. He added the city is budgeting a 10-percent decrease in sales tax revenue for Fiscal Year 2021, looking forward to a "conservatively good" year, though not a strong one.
Attrition has factored into projected savings, as several employees have retired and those vacancies have not been filled.
"We're going to try and get along without replacing them," Robinson said.
Attrition has trickled into a large chuck of street department funding, with a reduction of approximately $66,789 in salaries included in the proposed budget. That's been countered by an increase of $60,320 in seasonal salaries from last year, though.
"Those seasonal salaries will obviously be for seasonal work," Robinson said. "We'll hire a few people to cut grass and clean the streets."
Inmate labor made up $33,000 of expenses in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. In 2020-2021, West Point plans to eliminate that cost entirely.
"We're not going to utilize inmate labor," Robinson said. "I don't think it will make a substantial difference, but it will make a little difference in the street department and public works."
In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the city paid off $67,958 on a street sweeper and will pay off the remaining $16,989 on the vehicle this year, netting a savings of approximately $50,000.
Gap policy rates have decreased from Blue Cross Blue Shield, leading to some projected savings on group health insurance. But Robinson said insurance figures could change in 2021.
"Our health insurance policy with Blue Cross Blue Shield doesn't come into effect until January 1," Robinson said. "So we'll be looking into that in December. We're not sure what kind of changes there will be there. We'll have to address that."
Around the Golden Triangle
Columbus and Starkville have not had the same luxury of making cuts without implementing layoffs or furloughs.
In late April, the Columbus City Council enacted a series of cost-saving measures that included work hour reduction, pay cuts and a hiring freeze, which are expected to save the city at least $1.56 million, according to Mayor Robert Smith. The policies were prompted by a projected 40-percent drop of the city's sales tax revenue as the COVID-19 pandemic rocks local businesses.
In Starkville, Aldermen furloughed 47 of the city's 306 employees in late April as a measure to cover nearly $1.3 million that Mayor Lynn Spruill estimated the city will lose in sales tax revenue this fiscal year.
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