Airport is self-sufficient, cemetery is not

Published 1:58 pm Friday, July 8, 2011

Members of Picayune’s City Council met with city employees to discuss the preliminary budgets for the airport and cemetery for the next fiscal year.

Thursday afternoon, council members were presented with figures the city clerk and deputy city clerk believe will work.

Council members also heard about how the two departments have been doing over the past year.

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As far as the airport is concerned, it has been self-sufficient for the past three years, even building up a surplus under the new director’s tenure. City Clerk Priscilla Daniel said Airport Director Andy Greenwood has made strides to ensure the airport does not need general funds to stay afloat. In previous years, Daniel said the general fund put about $32,000 into keeping the airport operational.

Council member Jason Todd Lane asked if the surplus that has been built up, can be transferred to the general fund. Deputy City Clerk Amber Hinton said it could, but she advised against it. Hinton said if that surplus was moved out of the airport’s fund, the airport would not have any funds to handle emergencies, such as if lightning struck an antenna or some other crucial piece of equipment, or to seek grants that require a match.

Daniel said that surplus also might allow the city to purchase an easement used by the runway and if that easement is purchased by the city, work can be done to remove trees near the runway to make it safer.

The cemetery has historically been a part of the city that is not self-sufficient. While that is the case, the city is moving towards sending less general fund money to the cemetery with some careful maneuvering. Hinton said the cemetery is not self-supporting because it does not sell enough lots to pay for the grounds and maintenance costs.

Hinton said the city has been able to reduce general fund transfers to the cemetery fund from $62,000 for the last fiscal year to $42,000 for the coming fiscal year, part of which was accomplished with employee moves. Public Works Director Eric Morris said he has moved two employee positions that where at the cemetery to other areas of the city. Morris said he made those moves because he believes the cemetery was overstaffed in the past.

“I personally think it was overstaffed before,” Morris said.

Council member Lynn Bogan Bumpers asked the financial staff if there was anything that could be done to pave a road at the Eighth Street cemetery, which is hard to traverse especially when it rains. Morris said there are two options for that, use city funds, or see if there are excess funds left at the end of the city wide paving project that could handle the job.

Daniel also suggested using some perpetual-care funds saved for the cemetery, but if the council decided to use those funds, members also need to consider implementing a policy of putting funds back into the perpetual fund when lots are sold.

On a separate matter, council member Larry Breland asked Hinton and Daniel if furloughs could be ended to improve employee morale. Hinton said city employees currently take a half-day furlough every month, and administrators take a full day furlough each month, which is equivalent to a three percent pay decrease.

Hinton said with sales tax collections expected to be less during the next fiscal year than they have been this year, removing furloughs would be tough.

“I know you can’t get blood from a turnip,” Breland said.

City officials plan to hold another budget workshop on July 19, at 2 p.m. in the council chambers.