Tupelo Council passes FY11 budget – just barely

TUPELO – The City Council narrowly approved its FY11 budget during a special-called meeting Tuesday where three members objected over a host of concerns.
Markel Whittington of Ward 1, Jim Newell of Ward 3 and Mike Bryan of Ward 6 voted against the $32.7 million general fund budget. All said personnel costs were too high. Newell and Whittington complained it wasn’t a balanced plan because it dipped $1.5 million into the rainy day fund.
“This council is charged by the taxpayers to be fiscally responsible for the finances of this great city, and I believe the taxpayers deserved a balanced budget without using surplus funds,” Whittington said.
Passing the budget were council President Fred Pitts of Ward 2, Nettie Davis of Ward 4, Jonny Davis of Ward 5 and Willie Jennings of Ward 7.
“Right now times are tough,” countered Jennings. “We can’t balance the budget. We can weather the storm, and it will pass. Let’s not beat it trying to chop that budget down and down. You want good people, you’ve got to pay people. You want good service, you’ve got to pay people.”
But Bryan and Newell also complained about the nearly $60,000 salary of the city’s deputy police chief, Robert Hall, who has yet to obtain state certification as a law enforcement officer.
Bryan had tried to strip Hall’s salary from the budget before the council voted on it, but his attempt didn’t receive any support.
Hall’s request for certification was denied by the state, but he’ll have an appeal hearing, which likely will happen in November. If the appeal is unsuccessful, said Newell, the city needs a backup plan.
“I am unwilling at this time to strip that salary because of due process,” Newell said. “But if it fails, this administration and this council need to act.”
Other council members praised the budget for allowing Tupelo to continue services without layoffs while keeping the city in sound financial shape.
Said Mayor Jack Reed Jr.: “There are two ways to get to a balanced budget – increased revenues and decreased expenses.”
He said neither can happen overnight, but believes the city is headed in the right direction.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal