By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – The City Council praised Mayor Jason Shelton’s proposed 2015 fiscal year budget, the first in seven years projecting a surplus.
Department heads joked, Shelton appeared relaxed and a previously skeptical council seemed turned into believers Tuesday during a friendly gathering to discuss the $32.8 million budget.
Even Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington, one of two council members who opposed Shelton’s budget a year ago, didn’t want to wait a month to approve the document for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30.
“I suggest to my colleagues to pass the budget, support it and come up with any additional savings later in the year,” he said prior the budget presentation.
Plans discussed this week project a $152,370 surplus remaining in about a year.
“I’m very excited to be on track to not just have a conservative budget but a surplus,” Shelton said.
Multiple factors improved the mood compared to a year ago, when the mayor elected three months earlier wanted to create an in-house city attorney position, work previously outsourced by the same law firm for decades.
A key factor in the improved mood is Council President Mike Bryan’s establishment of a budget committee of three council members to join Shelton and the administration during preliminary budget discussions. It allowed elected officials and city officials to find compromise in sticking points weeks sooner.
“The council and the administration worked well together and kept us informed,” said Bryan, who last year did not support the in-house attorney.
Now the council president not only supports the position, but also plans to support the city’s fiscal plan. Bryan voted against city budgets in fiscal years 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011.
Shelton at first questioned how much the council’s budget committee would streamline the budget process but said Tuesday, “it’s been a smooth process.”
State law requires local governments to pass budgets for the next fiscal year by Sept. 15. The council plans to call a special meeting Sept. 12 to approve it.
The council, Shelton and city department heads will meet again today to review Tupelo Water & Light’s proposal, along with a presentation from city attorney Ben Logan.
The mayor and council still have to reach consensus on a few significant details, such as how much to spend on crumbling city streets with repairs reaching in the millions.