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City leaders propose 5 percent tax increase

By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
August 4, 2001
Meridian officials are considering a 5 percent increase in property tax starting in October to offset rising expenses and sluggish sales tax revenues.
The tax increase was part of a budget proposal city councilmen discussed on Friday. The proposal would leave 21 vacant city positions unfunded; it also would not include money for employee raises.
The Friday meeting was the first time city councilmen have discussed a budget for new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Councilmen have the next two months to draft and approve a new budget.
The new budget will replace the current $41.5 million budget that funds everything from city services to employee salaries including those for the police and fire departments. This year's city budget was also tight, with Chief Administrative Officer Ken Storms reporting revenue shortfalls.
Skipper said the proposed tax increase would generate about $550,000 a year for the city. He said owners of a $51,000 home would pay about $12.68 more a year in taxes, while owners of a $100,000 home would pay about $25 more a year.
Residents disagree
Meridian resident Harold McBrayer is opposed to the a tax increase.
But another Meridian resident, Dean Carmichael, said he isn't opposed to taxes "if they are put towards better service for residents and to keep our good city employees."
Brandon Pritchard, president of the Meridian Police Officer's Association, said city employees should at least receive a cost-of-living pay increase.
Skipper said a combination of factors are contributing to a tight city budget.
Preliminary estimates show employee health insurance could jump 20 percent, costing the city an additional $240,000. A possible 9.5 percent Mississippi Power Company rate increase could cost the city $104,000 more for utility expenses.
Saving money
To offset these increases, city officials propose saving about $470,000 by not funding 21 vacant job positions.
Mayor John Robert Smith said the city's problems are part of a larger national trend. He said a tax increase and other cost-saving measures are necessary to avoid possible employee layoffs.
Sales tax collections for the city are down about $335,000 compared to this time last year.
Although most city councilmen said they will consider the proposal, Ward 5 Councilman Bobby Smith said he is apprehensive about approving the request.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridihirttale:an Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3226, or e-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.