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Budget Meeting

Budget meeting reveals much about city finances and issues

By John Howell Sr.

Batesville city officials crunched numbers Wednesday.

In what has become an annual June ritual, Batesville’s mayor, aldermen and city clerk heard Certified Public Accountant Bill Crawford recommend an amended budget — required by law to avoid overspending the amounts estimated when the 2009 budget was finalized last September.

Crawford’s discussion provides insight both into the state of the city and into its relationship with Panola County government.

“As y’all know, sales tax has been on the skids,” Crawford said. “Property tax is holding; car tags are down significantly.”

Revenue down, expenses up

Crawford based his figures on revenue and expense through May.

Sales taxes originally projected to generate $3.6 million for the city’s general fund are now expected to fall about $400,000 short. Ad valorem tax — all real and personal property taxes including autos and mobile homes — will fall about $190,000 short of the $2 million originally budgeted. Anticipated revenue from road and bridge funds returned to the city fell $51,000 short of the projected $350,000. Fees collected with building permits are down from the $70,000 when the budget figures were to $9,756 to date. And so on.

We’ve got the budget balanced by transfers,” the CPA continued, “ … a little bit on the conservative side (since) a shortfall on expenses falls back on the aldermen’s bond.” The amount transferred into the general fund is increased from $1 million to $1.45 million in the amended budget. The money is available from budget expense items either cut or not presently needed or revenue items which have generated a surplus.

Animal shelter on hold

As Crawford made his recommendations, topics covered included:

•A proposed animal shelter.

“It’s all on the city if that goes ahead,” Crawford said.

The 2009 city budget includes $400,000 for the construction of an animal shelter.

City officials last September included the amount in anticipation of reimbursement for half of the cost from the county. “The county has backed out,” Crawford said.

Crawford recommended transferring the $400,000 back into the general fund and borrowing the money if the city decides to build the shelter on its own.

Overbilled for garbage

•The county bills the city for collecting for about 200 more garbage cans than the city bills for, Crawford said.

“How do we pay for too many cans?” Alderman Stan Harrison asked.

“Batesville has data: addresses and people, addresses and cans in a database. They don’t have that capacity,” Crawford said, referring to the Panola County Solid Waste Department.

•Economic development “is in good shape,” Crawford said, referring to the city’s revolving loan fund for business and industry.

“We’ve still got that one bad loan — $30,000,” the Will Polk and Associates’ CPA continued.

“Every time the mayor talks to them, money shows up,” said assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell. “I don’t know what he says.”

•Tourism tax is “down slightly,” Crawford continued. The funds generated by tax on sales of prepared food, beverage and lodging has been used to service the civic center construction debt and as matching money on infrastructure construction grants on Martin Luther King Street and at Covenant Crossing.

•“Water and sewer sales is holding its own,” the CPA said. In recent years, the mayor and aldermen adopted a policy of gradual increases to avoid losses in that department.

•Pending is a $100,000 grant for a walking trail at Trussell Park.

•$10,000 budgeted for a farmers’ market has not been used.

“I think it’s not going to work downtown until we (disallow) it on Highway 6,” Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow said.

“You need a building, an open shed,” Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders added.

Creek bank erosion

•“The Sand Creek through Batesville is eating people’s yards,” Mayor Jerry Autrey said.

Pounders said that she remembered an earlier plan which recommended a dam upstream “to hold water to keep it from running so fast.” She said that the dam was costly. Another alderman suggested that dam construction may be an appropriate project to fund with stimulus money.

Alderman Rufus Manley said that recent bank stabilization work at the Batesville Job Corps Center had weakened supports to a bridge that would give a fire truck access to buildings on the campus’s north side.

In the one-thing-leads-to-another format that had evolved late into the 90-minute meeting, Alderman Bill Dugger asked attorney Mitchell for clarification of the city’s roll at BJCC

Following a 5-0 vote to hire a temporary worker, Manley urged consideration of more extensive use of people who owe fines to city court as for temporary labor.

“That’s part of our problem is that we let employees tell us what to do,” Manley said.

“I don’t think that aldermen should get the cost-of-living raise,” Pounders said.

She cited cutbacks in hours at private businesses and the need to cut city expenses. “I think the board does not need that five percent raise.”

“I just don’t want to get back into 15 years without raises,” Manley said.

Manley also recommended that the incoming administration consider small annual increases in real estate taxes instead of a large increase after years of no increases.

The terms of Pounders and Manley will end this month.

Crawford noted that in spite of the recession, the city is still in a “growth mode” that generates infrastructure expenses even though revenue is down.

“On the dog pound, are you talking about a bond issue?” Mitchell asked Crawford, returning to the earlier discussion.

Crawford replied that was his recommendation even though a $400,000 issue is “not as cost effective as a larger bond issue.”

 The CPA commended the city officials for policies that have reduced municipal indebtedness. “At one time your borrowing capacity was essentially nothing,” he said.

“You’ve got bonding capacity,” Crawford added, due to recent years of debt service.

In an interview following the meeting, Crawford said that as stimulus funds become available from the federal government, the city will need matching funds for grants. “It’s not free, the city’s going to have to pay up and match,” said the CPA.