Tupelo council members look at employee costs

Tupelo StockBy Robbie Ward
Daily Journal

TUPELO – With no plans to raise taxes and flat revenue expected for the coming fiscal year, Tupelo City Council members have their own ideas of what the 2014 budget should look like.

As council members wait for Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton and city department heads to present the proposed budget, not all City Council members are waiting for formal presentations.

Ward 5 Councilman Buddy Palmer, serving in the second month of his first time holding office in city government, has spreadsheets for the current year’s budget at his house.

“I’m going over last year’s budget,” he said.

As he reviews numbers for the city, Palmer said he’s struck by the percentage of personnel costs, about 63.9 percent of the overall city budget.

The current budget is about $36 million. The City Council is required by state law to pass the new budget by Sept. 15.

Palmer joins fellow council members Markel Whittington of Ward 1 and Lynn Bryan of Ward 2 in thinking the city’s payroll may absorb too much of the overall budget. However, Palmer, a former grocer who kept a weekly payroll, said he didn’t sign up for the job to fire people.

“It seems to me that Tupelo may be a little overstaffed, but I didn’t run for office to be an ax person,” he said. “I’m a believer in attrition.”

However, the council has a wide spectrum of opinions at this stage. Whittington wants to eliminate about 11 percent of Tupelo’s 458 employees. However, like Shelton, Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell mentioned adding city positions.

The mayor would like to create a new department for legal services, while Newell wants to explore adding a new code enforcement officer.

Shelton anticipates the city creating a legal department not costing any additional tax dollars. Newell said the city could pay for the new code enforcement position from increased rental property fees generated in recent years.

Earlier this week, Shelton said his goal is to provide the council with a balanced budget without dipping into the city’s reserves or through the sale of bonds, as has been the practice for most Tupelo mayors in recent memory.

Council President Nettie Davis could not be reached on Thursday.

No budget meetings have been scheduled for City Council members to hear department heads make their budget request presentations. Discussions are expected as soon as next week.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com

  • mcgruff

    Everybody just needs to remember that with reduced employees comes reduced services. Tupelo does a lot of stuff that other places don’t, like the Fourth of July celebration, brush pick-up on call, smoke alarms installed by fire department during an awareness week, Communities Forward festival, summer hiring program, internships, neighborhood association grants availability of city employees at every meetings, not to mention the hundreds of events and sports opportunities through the Parks & Rec program. Take away 11 percent of the workforce and you’ll be taking away some of these programs.

  • Guest

    It does not seem reasonable to talk about cutting employees without adding some context of why? How anyone can claim a blanket percentage cutback or claim salary is “too much” of a budget without explaining why boggles my mind. Cuts for cuts sake might make for good sound bites but it is a poor business / policy model.
    Maybe someone could ask council members to give some real details.

    • mcgruff

      Good insight, Guest.

      I think Markel Whittington is trying to position himself for mayor in four years, and he’s just using the anti-government talking points, which don’t necessarily apply here.

      I have a cost-cutting suggestion: Let’s go to a five-member council instead of a seven-member group. After all, what measurable results does the council produce? They meet twice a month and get full benefits, small salary, all the free travel their hearts desire, AND they’ll get state retirement. Seems to me that’s wasting taxpayer money.