TUPELO – More and new voices have joined preliminary city budget discussions for the 2015 fiscal year, among the most important tasks of any public body.
Tupelo City Council representatives joined Mayor Jason Shelton and department heads in early budget talks beginning two weeks ago, the first time in roughly a decade for council members to participate so early in the process.
Council President Mike Bryan’s priority to create a three-member council budget committee ranks among the first and most important since he began the year-long leadership role this month.
“I want the council engaged in the budget process more in the preparation part,” Bryan said recently. “Approving the budget each year is one of the council’s most important responsibilities.”
Key duties for council members in the mayor-council form of government include setting policy and approving the budget. The mayor’s role includes presenting the budget and leading day-to-day operations.
Bryan emphasized council members can complement the administration’s efforts during early meetings related to department-level requests, projected tax revenue, overall expenses and other details.
The committee of Markel Whittington of Ward 1, Willie Jennings of Ward 7 and Lynn Bryan of Ward 2 has joined Shelton; Don Lewis, chief operations officer; Kim Hanna, chief financial officer and city clerk; and other department heads during recent weeks of budget talks.
Council members in early budget talks have an opportunity to share insights and data with the other four on the council. Hanna said Wednesday the budget committee has reviewed each city department’s finances and requests except for Tupelo Water & Light, scheduled for Friday.
By comparison, council members didn’t receive a copy of Shelton’s proposed budget a year ago until Aug. 19, less than a month prior to Sept. 15, the final date state law allows municipal and county governments to approve annual budgets.
Fiscal years run from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
Whittington anticipates at least another committee meeting to discuss payroll, the city’s biggest expense. From 2008 to 2013, personnel costs have averaged more than 60 percent of the city’s general fund revenue of more than $30 million.
City leaders want personnel costs eventually to mirror sales tax revenue generated, which hasn’t happened since 2002.
“I haven’t seen anything on payroll yet,” Whittington said. “The budget committee has to evaluate the totals.”
Shelton said he’ll wait until after approving the budget to decide if adding council members earlier to the conversation improved the process.
“It’s something as an administration we could have resisted but that’s not the tone we want to set,” he said. “We all work for the same people.”