City not broke, yet

Published 3:46 pm Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The City of Picayune, like most cities, is not recession proof.

Sales taxes collected from the state in the past three months by the city, which are usually about three months behind, have been between $20,000 to $25,000 less than budget projections, said City Clerk Priscilla Daniel.

To further the problem ad valorem taxes for the city have not been sent to the city yet. A recent agreement enables the county to collect the city’s taxes, along with all school district taxes, and then pass them down to the city. Bills were only recently sent out. Franchise fees, which are paid by companies such as the phone and cable companies, have also not arrived.

Daniel said while the money the city is collecting is behind their projections, for the most part each city department is staying within their budget. However with less than expected money coming in, about two percent less, in the form of sales taxes Daniel said she will need to send out a memo to all department heads instructing them that only essential purchases will be approved.

“We just don’t know what we are looking at at the first of the year with the economy like it is right now,” Daniel said.

Mayor Greg Mitchell said the city is still expecting to receive some increased sales taxes from Christmas shopping, which he hopes people will do the majority of in Picayune. Mitchell expressed appreciation for Daniel bringing the current status of the budget to the council’s attention at the council meeting. He said he expects more revenues to come in later in the fiscal year. Daniel agreed in the short term there is not much to worry about.

“We’re not broke, yet,” Daniel said.

Council member Leavern Guy said the report given by Daniel at Tuesday’s meeting is nothing to be scared of.

“This is not Holloween, this is Christmas,” Guy said.

While there may be less taxes coming in there is some federal money the city has not yet used to conduct local road repairs, but it will require a 20 percent match from the city, said Grant Administrator Barbara McGrew. She suggested the city take advantage of the money now while they have it, since there is talk of the city losing it in 2009 when new Mississippi Department of Transportation administration takes over.

There is about $108,000 left in the MDOT funds, and of the five projected options laid out by the Public Works Department the city’s minimal cost would be $26,400.

The money can only be used on Federal Aid Streets. Picayune has 23 such roads inside its limits, including the very bumpy Beech Street and Jackson Landing Road.

A decision on the matter was postponed until the first meeting in January.

Findings from the Shop Picayune meetings were presented to the council. The findings reflected a need for more and better shopping opportunities here locally in an effort to increase the amount of sales taxes that are collected. If the amount of sales taxes collected can be increased it could take some of the burden of supporting the city budget off homeowners, said Debbie Moore.

Some key points included in the findings stated a need for businesses with evening hours, better restaurants and hotels, reviewing the alcohol ordinance and educating the public about the ordinance and increased advertisement through various avenues. The council approved adding the findings to the council meeting minutes.

Police Chief Jim Luke announced that since the implementation of the noise ordinance noise complaints have decreased by about 50 percent.

City Attorney Nathan Farmer said the Smoking Ordinance is waiting to be published before it will go into effect, which will be 30 days after it is published. Farmer said the ordinance will be published after a summary of it has been drawn up. He could not give an estimated time frame for the summary to be drawn up because the person responsible for making the summary is ill.

Interim City Manager Harvey Miller mentioned to the council that a number of trees in the city are dying and will need to be cut down before they pose a safety hazard. Mitchell suggested calling in some tree experts to see if anything can be done to save the trees before the city opts to cut them down. Miller said if the trees do need to be cut, then new trees will be planted in their place.

The council went into executive session to discuss contractual matters with the Intermodal Center, Berrywood Estates, Pearl River County Utility Authority and the interlocal agreement between the city and the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors on paving Amelia St. The agenda also listed a possible insurance litigation and a personnel matter.

Outcomes to any the topics discussed in the executive session were not available at press time Tuesday night.

In other business the council;

— The re-appointment of Melvin Hicks as Planning Commission chair person failed for a lack of a quorum. The vote was three for the vote and one against. Council member Anna Turnage was not present for the vote, Bounds voted against, and Guy recused himself.

— Approved donating a 1991 Fire Truck to a county volunteer fire department, with the board of supervisors to pick the department.

— Authorized establishing a police memorial in front of the police department to be paid for with donated funds raised in various causes.

The next council meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Jan. 6, in the council chambers.