Mantachie cuts costs by cutting employee

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

Mantachie has an approved budget for the 2013 fiscal year, but in order to cut costs, town leaders have had to make some hard decisions, including letting go of one of the town’s part-time employees.

During their latest regular meeting earlier this month, the Mantachie Board of Aldermen discussed the then-unapproved town budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which had a $10,380 deficit.

Mayor Jeff Butler said the budget would not have the deficit in its final form.

“We are not going to approve a budget that has a $10,000 deficit built into it,” Butler told the board. “We’re fixing to have to do something before our next meeting.”

He stayed true to his word; when the board approved the budget during a special meeting last week, there was no deficit. But getting there wasn’t easy.

The budget shows an estimated revenue of $311,425. Because the town has no property tax, most of this income — $188,000 of it — will come from sales tax. The rest is garnered through various fines, grants and other miscellaneous incomes.

Expenditures in the budget were estimated at $321,805. This amount is based on expenditures from the previous fiscal year, plus any loan payments and other expenses that the town may owe.

Just like when any family’s or business’ budget shows more money going out than coming in, the board is going to have to make some cuts in order to start in the black. The mayor arrived at the early-September meeting with some suggestions in hand.

Eyeballing the city’s largest expenses, the mayor suggested the board lay off one of its part-time police officers.

“Somebody has to go,” the mayor said. “That’s the only solution.”

The police department’s budget — referred to as “public safety” — accounts for more than 43 percent of the town’s total expenditures in the proposed budget, eclipsing its nearest neighbor, “general government,” by more than $28,000.

Prior to last week’s meeting, the police department operated with five employees — two full-time and three part-time. Following an executive session to discuss personnel matters, the board voted to let go of one of the part-time employees — Patrick Wallace, who’s worked as an officer since September 2011.

The board also questioned the town’s police chief, Richard Erickson, about the $15,000 in over-expenditures in the department’s budget this year.

“I thought you might have an idea of what caused the overage,” Aldermen Matt Fennell asked the police chief.

Erickson said he didn’t know, at least not without looking at a breakdown of the budget.

“Last I knew, we were under budget,” he told the board. “I can’t tell you right now because I don’t have anything to compare it to.”

The board further discussed the matter during its executive session, but took no action following the private meeting.

The mayor also suggested moving all of the town’s banking business to Farmers and Merchants Bank. For years, the board has split its finances between the town’s two banks: Farmers and Merchants and BancorpSouth. But a recent change to the agreement between the town and BancorpSouth has resulted in the former owing the latter upwards of $4,000 in service charges.

Previously, the agreement between the two entities stated that no service fees would be charged to the Town of Mantachie for banking at BancorpSouth. But this year’s contract included a qualifier: the town had to bank at BancorpSouth exclusively in order to waive service fees.

Farmers and Merchants Bank, on the other hand, is not charging the town any fees. The mayor suggested the board move all of the town’s finances to that bank, saving nearly $300 in service fees each month.

“We did what I thought was right by splitting the money between both banks … [but] I’m not going to pay them $4,000 a year to hold half of our money,” Butler said. “There’s no way.”

Although the board — and in particular Alderman Tim Jones — seemed reluctant to move all of the town’s business to one bank, in the end it voted to do just that.

“I hate to do it, but they haven’t really left us much choice,” Jones said.

Butler echoed the aldermen’s sentiments, stating that tough times are when true leaders show their mettle.

“These are some of the tough choices we just have to make,” the mayor said. “Here in Mantachie, we have to pinch every penny.”

But it wasn’t all bad news: The mayor announced that the August sales tax collection was $21,000, the highest in the town’s history. The mayor said he’s hopeful that it’s a sign of more prosperous times ahead.

So, while the board might be singing the budget blues now, maybe this time next year the tune will be a bit different.

adam.armour@journalinc.com