City collecting fines, but revenue down

Published 3:22 pm Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Collections of Municipal Court fines in the City of Picayune are up but tax revenues are down.

The increase in fine collections is attributed to the introduction of a city warrant officer and increased enforcement of the penalties for unpaid fines while the decrease in revenues is actually typical for this time of year.

City court clerk Lisa Albritton said at Tuesday’s city council meeting that during her fist six months as the city’s court clerk, which entails May to October, the office has collected $119,093 more in fines than the office did last year. She said the increase in fine collection is due to the city implementing a warrant officer who has been notifying people with back fines that they need to be paid. Also the court clerk’s office has been sending out letters to notify people of past due fines as well as suspending driver’s licenses.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“I think it’s coming across to the community that we’re serious,” Albritton said.

Later in the meeting City Clerk Priscilla Daniel gave the council a report on the city’s finances. She said right now the city is going through lean months where tax revenue typically drops.

“Right now I’m not panicking but it is down,” Daniel said.

She said the city usually collects the bulk of tax revenue after the first of the year. For each month the city has budgeted to receive an average of about $335,000, this month’s report was about $30,000 short.

“I’m worried, but I’m not panicking,” Daniel said.

To even the budget out she suggested the city needs to watch purchases closely. Daniel said the police department had figures that were a little high in two areas, administration and inmate supplies. Every other department appeared to be within their budget.

She said this was the first report of the fiscal year and as the months progress the months with higher tax collections will help even the budget out, especially helping to cover the big expenses at the begging of the fiscal year.

On a separate matter the council made a motion to move forward with selling city hall, also known as the former Arizona Chemical building. Mayor Ed Pinero Jr. said the motion does not mean the city has a buyer, it only allows the city to seek an appraisal so they can move to the next step. Daniel said there are two processes the city could utilize to sell the property, either by advertising for a buyer, which would entail the city getting the appraisal first. Also the city could go with the negotiation process where interested buyers would share the cost to get an appraisal. For that process the city would need buyers on board to purchase the building.

If offers did not meet expectations then the council would have legal right to reject all of them, City Manager Harvey Miller said.

The council also approved a motion to proceed with annexing the city’s airport, after they have secured the necessary maps and legal descriptions of the land to be annexed. Daniel said it would cost about $10,000 to annex the property but could mean about $46,000 in additional tax collections on the airplanes, ground leases and personal property at the site. She said that total does not include sales tax on fuel. Pinero said the annexation would include the Chevron building at the airport.

The city’s water tanks might get some much needed maintenance, when the council takes action on the matter. Public Works Director Chad Frierson spoke with the council about the need to get the city’s four water storage tanks repainted, inside and out. Also the city needs to fix any damage that was wrought on the tanks by Hurricane Katrina.

Before the council made a decision Miller asked the council to table the matter due to some concerns he is seeking additional information on. The council tabled the matter until Miller could get the information collected.

Council member Todd Lane asked Daniel when the city could expect to get the next audit, which is overdue. Daniel said first needs to reconcile some of the accounts receivable in the city’s water department before the audit can be finished. Outside companies perform audits on city finances.

She said the city should expect the audit to be complete by the end of this or next month. Lane said if the audit is not finished until the end of December then the city would be three months behind state law requirements, and that fact bothers him.

Daniel assured Lane that after this audit is complete the city will be on schedule and expects to get receive the city’s 2008-2009 audit before August of 2010.

A paving project set for Palestine Road will involve slightly less than mile worth of road, but is still going to happen. The grant funds were cut so the original plan to pave about 1.6 miles of the road, from the intersection of Canal and Crosby Streets to Neal Road had to be reduced to .9 miles, Miller said.

Miller said the paving on Palestine will still run to Neal Road and include the intersection of Beech and Palestine, which is a bumpy path, but will not entail the entire length of Palestine Road and Crosby Street. Pinero said the city has received approval from the Mississippi Department of Transportation to remove old railway tracks on Palestine Road as part of the work. That removal could involve both sets of tracks, but will definitely involve the tracks closest to the fire station on Palestine. Miller expects the work to begin in the next two months after bids have been advertised, turned in, accepted and approved.

American Red Cross Recovery Specialist for Pearl River County Lorena Diaz said the Picayune Fire Department was able to raise about $2,500 in their latest boot drive, which took place Friday and Saturday. The department held the boot drive part of the Red Cross’ Heroes campaign.

The council went into executive session for a personnel matter, and two contractual matters, one dealing with Arizona Chemicals. Decisions on those matters were not available at press time Tuesday.

In other business the council;

— Approved the annual Toys for Tykes motorcycle run scheduled for Dec. 12, at starting at the National Guard Armory at 10 a.m. The event will then leave for the historic city hall on Goodyear Boulevard at 11 a.m.

— Authorized an amendment to the Airport ground lease that will hold tenants responsible for ad valorem and personal property taxes assessed by the county and if the taxes are not paid will enable the city to terminate the lease.

The next regular session of the council will be at 5 p.m. Dec. 1.