The Hernando Board of Aldermen will return to City Hall on Sept. 3 at 6 p.m. to continue discussions about the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, following a public hearing Aug. 29 that gained little more than air some areas where money could or could not be cut.
Board members asked department heads to return with ways they can scale back their requests to a point where, as a whole, a $307,000 difference can be made up to balance the budget.
City leaders are also mandated by the state to have a balanced budget passed by Sept. 15 to go into place at the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
Before recessing the public hearing, city leaders did decide they would continue asking the same millage rate in ad valorem taxes for the coming fiscal year, a figure that is at just over 40.7 mills.
Before the public hearing on the budget, the board approved the city’s insurance plan for the coming year with United Healthcare.
“The insurance plan stayed flat,” said Mayor Tom Ferguson afterward. “We gave the employees just a little bit better coverage with getting eyeglasses every year instead of every two years. We also provided them $1,500 for their out-of-pocket expenses with a higher deductible.”
Another item passed at the special meeting was approval of a Memorandum of Understanding with DeSoto County concerning costs for new pedestrian crossings on the city’s historic Courthouse Square. The project is covered primarily by federal highway funds, but the city and county are to equally share what amounts to 20 percent of the more than $600,000 price tag. The county pays 10 percent, as does the city.
“We’re very pleased that the county supported us and we worked together,” Ferguson said.
During the public hearing on the budget, Alderman Andrew Miller said he wanted a “flat” budget, saying the city could not afford any new hires or raises for current employees.
“Departments are going to have to make cuts,” said Miller.
MIller was joined by Alderman W.I. “Doc” Harris Jr., who said, “We’re $300,000 off budget. We need to hand this budget back to them (department heads) to find where to cut. We have no rainy day fund at all.”
Harris went on to ask about the amount of overtime being spent, which he said amounted to about $336,000 between all departments.
That garnered a response from Police Chief Scott Worsham, who said, “We’re doing all we can to reduce overtime. I am being completely honest. I can’t find another dollar where I can cut.”
Worsham went on to say that Hernando’s officer-to-population numbers are similar than other communities of its size in Mississippi. Hernando has a 2.6 ratio per 1,000 population. Other cities include Corinth (2.8), Ridgeland and McComb (2.7) and Long Beach (2.5). The statewide average is 2.9 officers per 1,000 population in Mississippi.
Worsham also defended purchases of police squad cars, pointing out, “Maintenance is expensive. You’re lucky to get five years out of a police car.”
Fire Chief Hubert Jones was asked by Alderman Jeff Hobbs about the need to buy a new fire truck, but Jones said the city’s fire rating might go up if the truck, which he said needed to be replaced, is not.
“I was told we needed to put it in the budget,” Jones said. “So, I did.”
While there were calls for cuts, Alderman Michael McLendon said he would like to see where the city could find more money.
“How do we raise revenue?” McLendon asked.
Aldermen are working with a city budget worth about $25 million and Ferguson said the city is strapped for cash.
“We have nothing in reserve,” said Ferguson.
With that, the hearing was recessed to Sept. 3 with hopes that during that time, ways may be found to balance the budget.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.