CATEGORY: ALD Tupelo City Council



By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

A proposal to provide a full-time psychological counselor for city employees was killed by Tupelo City Council Tuesday night after no member would move to approve the plan.

However, one councilman suggested the proposal could be revived when the panel considers the city’s 1996-97 budget later this year.

Mayor Jack Marshall said the plan would significantly improve service to employees in dealing with substance abuse and marital, financial, stress and other problems.

“I know in your everyday lives you may not need counseling,” Marshall told council members. “But believe you me, (in) any large number of employees (some) need counseling, whether it’s outside or inside …”

The city currently offers an outside counseling service through the North Mississippi Medical Center, including pre-employment counseling. But Marshall said employees have indicated they would prefer an in-house counselor.

The mayor said he posed that option in a recent meeting with police officers.

“About two-thirds of the police department raised their hands for internal counseling,” he said. “(And) It’s not just the police department.”

Under the proposal, all employees would meet the counselor on a set schedule. That would give each worker an opportunity to broach any problem without raising a possible stigma associated with such visits, Marshall said.

In addition, savings from the costs for present outside counseling would make up about half of the proposed $25,000 to $30,000 annual salary for a full-time person, the mayor said.

“We believe it has a lot of merit …,” he said.

But the mayor found no takers.

Ward 6 Councilman Perry Thomas suggested the demand for the service was still unclear. More information to justify the hiring is needed, he said.

“I think it might be better as a budget item (in late summer),” Thomas said.

In other action, the council voted unanimously to ask the state Legislature to amend an old pension program for police and firefighters that would let the city grant annual cost-of-living increases.

Police and firefighters hired before 1976 were eligible to participate in the Police and Fireman Disability and Relief Fund, with the option of drawing benefits after 20 years service. Those hired after that time, or choosing to convert, are covered under the existing state retirement program.

But in the old program, police and firefighters paid no social security taxes and thus are not eligible for federal Social Security payments. There also were no standards for boosting pension payments, regardless of the effects of inflation over the years.

About 90 retirees or their spouses and 18 active Tupelo employees are still covered by the relief fund.

“We have to go to the Legislature every time we want to amend the plan,” city Finance Director Lynn Norris noted. “What we intend to do is come up with a plan that will be more flexible … and allow us to give cost of living increases.”

The proposed local and private legislation would let the council grant cost-of-living increases up to 5 percent each year as the council saw the need.

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