Council approves two-mill increase

Published 7:00 am Saturday, September 9, 2017

Friday morning the Picayune City Council held a public hearing to gather comments concerning the next fiscal year’s budget, before approving a two-mill increase.
In addition to some community members and business owners, just about every police officer not on duty was present at the hearing, dressed in uniform.
Picayune Police Chief Bryan Dawsey was the first to speak.
Dawsey said all city employees, the administration and Council members, work as a team to get the job done and as such everyone deserves a raise.
His argument for a police officer pay increase involves the disparity between the pay provided to starting officers at surrounding agencies. Officers with the Picayune Police Department start at $12.10 an hour. Support staff such as dispatchers and jailers start at $10.24. While he didn’t have the starting pay for support staff at surrounding agencies, he said officers at the Pearl River Community College start at $13.75, starting deputies at the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department receive $15.52 and officers starting out at the Poplarville Police Department receive $16.31 an hour.
After all deductions are taken out, a starting Picayune Police Officer who worked 85.75 hours in two weeks typically brings home about $733, Dawsey said. He added that the officer used in that example has not added any family members to his insurance plan and did not opt into other benefits.
His point was that the city of Picayune must increase officer pay in order to be competitive, keep the officers they have and recruit new officers.
The difference in pay is one of the reasons the department has lost officers to those surrounding agencies. He said that since 2014, 35 officers and 14 support staff have left the Picayune Police Department to work at one of those other agencies.
That means after the city invested the cost of training that officer, they move on to another agency. Dawsey said it costs the city $3,750 to send an officer to the academy, and that figure does not include all of the expenses involved.
City Clerk Amber Hinton said officers are paid their hourly wage by the city while attending the academy.
While some of that expense is reimbursed, he estimates the city has spent more than $100,000 to train officers that eventually went to work at other departments.
“When the other agencies have openings, they come and get my people,” Dawsey said.
Many officers and firefighters employed by the city of Picayune have second jobs to make ends meet, Dawsey said.
Public Works Director Eric Morris also spoke on behalf of his staff, who are responsible for responding to instances of utility outages while dealing with less than satisfied city residents in the most positive manner possible.
He said that his department’s biggest hurdle is keeping up with the growing workload with minimal staff.
“We’re drowning in a workload that does not match the manpower,” Morris said.
He said that while the proposed three percent cost of living raise is appreciated, many city employees have gone without raises for a number of years.
City resident Garland Crosby said the city is already “taxed to death” and businesses in the city struggle to make ends meet.
Crosby agrees that city employees need a raise, but asked the Council to find another way other than raising the millage.
Bill Edwards also spoke on behalf of the business community, saying the downtown area is already having real problems. He said that problem has increased since the big box stores such as Walmart and Home Depot came to town.
“We’re hanging on, just barely,” Edwards said.
After all of the comments were heard, Councilor Wayne Gouguet said simply, “This is tough,” before making a motion to increase the rate by two mills, instead of the proposed 4.75.
Hinton said the increase would generate an additional $180,000 in revenue.
As for who will get a raise within the city’s employment, Hinton said that will be determined during a budget workshop set to take place next week.
According to information from the City Clerk’s office, the increase will mean taxpayers with residential property assessed at $100,000 will pay an additional $20 per year in city property taxes, bringing that bill to $386.10.
Owners of businesses assessed at $100,000 will pay $579.15 per year, a $30 per year increase. Those figures do not include school district and county taxes.
The Council will approve the final budget on Sept. 15, at 8 a.m.

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