It’s difficult to tell where to begin when it comes to Budget Season with our local entities. The number crunching has begun, and the departmental wish lists are presenting major financial challenges for our local officials.
Let’s begin with the City of Bay St. Louis. The seven guys on the City Council are working hard to get their budget together for the upcoming fiscal year of 2017-2018.
One little kink in the wheel that must be resolved sooner rather than later is WHERE IS THE 2016 AUDIT??????? Kind of hard to formulate a budget until you examine your auditor’s candid verdict on your books of account for the past fiscal year. The Auditor, Bobby Culumber, is MIA. They had better find him pretty soon. I think the audit was due on June 30, 2017 which would have given the City Council ample time before budget workshops to identify and confront their monetary issues and prioritize them.
Moving right along, the issues that have been discussed at the last two budget workshops are:
1. Going out for bids on the city’s insurance which is due to renew in Feb. or March of 2018.
2. On this same subject, since Council does not approve benefits for part time employees, they should also remove themselves from this benefit. Their position does not require them to spend every day at City Hall. ALL OF OUR PUBLIC ENTITIES SHOULD ELIMINATE THIS FROM THEIR BUDGETS. THINK OF THE MONEY WE WOULD SAVE.
3. Supporting the continued presence of a Tourism Office in Hancock County and lending financial support. Councilman DeSalvo also wants to solicit support from the Downtown Merchants since they benefit the most from Tourism events such as Cruisin’ the Coast.
4. Finding a qualified Building Department Official, and revamping that staff.
5. The challenge of not only the crack in the Harbor wall which will have to be settled by litigation but also the development of sink holes in the Harbor that have to be addressed immediately due as a public safety issue. The City Engineer oversees these issues and the extra workload has pushed him over budget.
6. What to do with that $13 surcharge on everyone’s utility bill for the past 3 years?! End it or keep it for support of the utility department?!
7. Fire Chief told Council he has 3 fire trucks trucks down. How many fire trucks does a city the size of the Bay need?
8. Police Chief needs personnel in the investigation department so cases get to the court system faster.
9. The never ending need for more personnel and equipment to maintain the grass cutting and ditches and drainage throughout the city. The City Council is considering contracting out the grass cutting for the 603 corridor.
10. The City Council will be asked by local non profits wanting taxpayer financial support. My feelings are: if a non profit can compensate their director or anyone on their staff more than the city’s Mayor, they don’t need financial help from John Q Public.
Both School Districts in the County have adopted their budgets, and both have sent Colonel Ronald Thorp and the School Consolidation Committee packing regarding their study on administrative consolidation of the two school districts. I guess for the time being we’ll just have to continue to dole out tax dollars for all of those duplicate positions.
It should be noted here that one group of elected officials, namely the County Board of Supervisors, did agree to host the Workshop between the two School Districts, and 2 of the 5 members of the Bay-Waveland Districts were willing to attend and discuss the details of the study to determine the pros and cons. Those 2 were Casey Favre and Vicky Arnold. These Supervisors and 2 appointed school officials from the Bay should be commended for their open minds.
The resolution of the future management of the Hancock County Library System will be done before the end of this fiscal year ending September 30. The final decision of the make up of the new Board for the new inter local agreement between the cities of Waveland and Bay St. Louis, and the County are 1 member for each city and 3 from the county making up the 5 member board.
It also needs to be clarified that the Library System is not in danger of being shut down, only a new inter local agreement. A Facebook petition is being circulated that requests all interested in “keeping” the Library to please sign. This is just a tad misleading as not one public official has suggested closing the Library System.
High on the interest list is the management of our Solid Waste Services in Hancock County. Currently it is managed by an 8 member Commission—
2 members from each city and 2 from the county Board of Supervisors. Solid Waste is listed on the County’s website as a Department of County Government, but has its own private administration, attorney, engineer, auditor, and enforcement officer.
The duplication of services here is comparable to the 2 school districts. We are the only county in the state that operates their Solid Waste services like this. The argument for this set up is so that the users can have a “voice at the table” and save us money.
Really? After several visits to the Compton Engineering Office on Longfellow to examine the minute book and financials, I am wondering where my voice at the table has been?!
My curiosity was sparked when one of the Commissioners sent me their 2015 audit. On page 9, the auditor made a notation that legal and engineering fees were substantially over budget. The profit and loss sheets for the following year confirm overages in the same fields, but even worse with attorney fees capping out the following year in July of 2016, at 204% over budget and engineering fees at 197% over. This was with 2 months left in the fiscal year. When I requested the profit and loss sheets for Sept. of 2016 to get the total overages for that fiscal year, the office administrator told me she doesn’t always put them in the book because “THE COMMISSIONERS DON’T LOOK AT THEM ANYWAY!!” I don’t doubt her since one of the Commissioners actually asked me to get him a copy of their budget. Now, he voted to approve it, but doesn’t have a copy!! Rubbish and landfill costs were also 119% over budget.
I searched the minutes for a motion by anyone to amend the budget for these expenditures, but could not find one. State law requires public bodies to amend their budgets when they see they are exceeding them. They can’t just sit there and keep spending money. Why didn’t one of our “voices at the table speak up??? Miscellaneous was also over budget that year coming in at 109%. It’s those entries like “miscellaneous” that make me nervous, but the others are unbelievable.
AND THE 2016 AUDIT IS STILL NOT IN FOR SOLID WASTE AUTHORITY.
All of this begs the question—-where do the Solid Waste Commissioners get the money to go over budget like this? Do they go to the Supervisors? Maybe we can find amendments to the Solid Waste Budget in the County system. This has to come from somewhere.
We all acknowledge the need for Solid Waste services, but do we need a whole separate entity operating out of the umbrella of County government? I’ve reported. You decide.
Take the time to attend your city’s or county budget workshops and meetings. Remember they are spending your money.