Tupelo municipal workers not on chopping block

TUPELO – Despite Tupelo’s shrinking budget, city employees shouldn’t fear a mass layoff when the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
Although Mayor Jack Reed Jr. made no promises during Thursday’s budget talks, he said staff cuts would be a last resort in keeping a balanced budget.
The city has until Sept. 15 to adopt a budget for fiscal year 2010, and declining revenues have made the process a difficult one. It’s estimated Tupelo will have between $1.4 million to $2.4 million less in the coming year compared to the current one.
Reed said he has “been looking under every rock” for ways to trim the city’s projected expenses next year. But layoffs aren’t part of that plan now, especially since the municipality has $22 million in a reserve account.
“Right now, we’ve got more in our fund balance than we actually need,” said Kim Hanna, the city’s interim chief financial officer. “I thought it’d be a bad sign to sit on all this money and let go of employees. That would hurt the local economy even more.”
City Council members must approve the mayor’s budget and could argue for more cuts, but none of the seven members seemed eager to do that.
They are likely to approve a salary freeze for the municipality’s roughly 500 employees, even though that move isn’t popular among workers.
Council President Fred Pitts said one city employee stopped him this week to complain about that proposal after having read it in the paper. Pitts said it would be easier to justify the move if he could explain how much was already trimmed from the budget.
Reed said dozens of items and requests were slashed, including funding for new code enforcement officers in the Development Services Department.
Still, Reed and Hanna said they feel confident of the city’s ability to weather the economy.
“We looked at the numbers and were very concerned about them,” Hanna said, but Tupelo “is in good financial shape.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com. Also read Emily’s blog, The Government Grind, at NEMS360.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal