Dire straights: What better time to balance the economy
August 5, 2001
Meridian's financial ship powered by the winds of retail sales taxes is dead in the water, becalmed and nearly swamped by a wave of red ink. Is there a refreshing breeze on the horizon?
There could be.
Glum-faced city officials faced each other last week with grim news that the current budget would fall short by about $335,000. Prospects for next year are just as bad and include:
A tax increase.
No raises for police officers or firefighters or any other city employee.
Not filling 21 positions in city government that are already vacant.
Higher costs for keeping the lights on at City Hall.
Higher insurance premiums for city employees.
The sobering reality is that few cities can thrive over the long term by resting on the lone foundation of retail sales taxes. In Meridian, retail sales taxes make up a third of the city budget. Flat retail sales in a city so heavily dependent on retail sales taxes is a losing proposition. In short, by design, Meridian has become too dependent on retail sales and it really shows when sales slow.
But business is cyclical and expectations are that the retail sector will grow again.
What better time to realize that Meridian needs a more balanced economy, one with a variety of strong elements that intermesh like the workings of fine gears. What better time to realize Meridian must build a new manufacturing base that embraces the promise of new ideas in high technology. What better time to nurture and encourage entrepreneurship. What better time to eliminate all of the barriers to new residential and commercial development.
What better time to expedite completion of The Grand Opera House of Mississippi, the Rosenbaum condos, Front Street renovation and other downtown revitalization projects.
What better time to pull together, tear down old political barriers, consolidate government and make ours one community.
The lame excuse has been offered that the national economy is in a slump, retail sales are down all over. This attitude neither adequately explains nor excuses the lack of local progressive thinking. It merely confirms the status quo.
But, as is evident by the city budget crisis, maintaining the status quo is just not good enough.
Many people in our community taxpayers of all descriptions, business and civic leaders, elected officials all share in the task of building a brighter future. Ideas, however, can only be implemented by the elected political leadership of this community, ideally, by the will of the people.
As one member of the Meridian city council put it the other day, "It's time to start worrying."
It's also time to start doing.