By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – City leaders on Thursday approved Tupelo’s $32 million general fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year with no tax hikes or employee raises.
They also passed an $18 million capital budget that includes funding for a new indoor aquatic center a host of other major projects and purchases.
Tax revenue funds the bulk of the general spending plan; bond money funds most of the capital plan.
The City Council passed both budgets in the same 6-1 vote after weeks of scrutiny and debate. Ward 7 Councilman Mike Bryan was the sole opponent, in part because his colleagues soundly rejected his push for 3 percent citywide employee raises.
“I think the employees deserve a raise,” Bryan said. “If we can spend … all this money on projects, you cannot tell me the employees can’t get a 3 percent raise.”
It would have cost roughly $525,000 to give all municipal workers the salary hike, according to figures provided earlier in the week by Mayor Jack Reed Jr. Bryan had suggested dipping into the city’s rainy day funds to pay for it, but others felt uncomfortable with that.
“To use reserve funds for salary increases is ludicrous,” said Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington.
Council members instead voted to consider citywide raises in February after having collected six months’ worth of sales tax revenue.
Reed had projected a 3 percent sales tax increase for the fiscal year, but he said it was an intentionally conservative number and expects to collect more than budgeted.
If he’s right, the council said it will spend those unbudgeted dollars on pay hikes.
Also included in the budget is $800,000 for street overlay, an amount many council members deemed insufficient. Some, like Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell, said he’d like to see some of the capital budget go toward general street and infrastructure needs.
“We’ve got crumbling streets and sewer systems and neighborhoods, and we’re spending 78 percent of our capital funds on Park and Rec,” he said, “and I think that’s out of line.”
A majority of the capital budget pays for the aquatic center and other park improvements.
Despite some complaints, Newell and other city leaders praised Reed and his administration for presenting a balanced budget without a tax increase.
City residents pay 32.47 mills of property tax. That means for every $1 of assessed property value, an owner pays $0.003247 in taxes, or roughly $487 for a $150,000 home.
Half of the total levy goes to the general fund budget; the rest goes to the library, police and fire retirement fund, bonds and interest and the Major Thoroughfare Program.