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Skipper talks about tight budgets, hard decisions and future hopes

By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
Aug. 13, 2001
Facing time and financial constraints, city department heads had little input into Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith's proposed 2002 budget, according to City Clerk Ed Skipper.
Much of the work was done by Smith and chief administrative officer Ken Storms.
A little more than a week ago, Smith and his staff presented council members with a proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
The proposal included a 5 percent property tax increase. It also left 21 positions unfunded and did not include any raises for city employees.
The new budget would replace the current $41.5 million budget. It would fund everything from city services to employee salaries, including those for the police and fire departments.
Tough decisions
Skipper said city leaders took a long, hard look at the $24 million general fund budget and had to make tough decisions to balance it. Skipper said the general fund budget has $11 million from sales tax revenues; $5 million from property tax revenues; and $8 million from government rebates, utility company franchise fees and other fees.
City council members have until Oct. 1 to review the proposal, make revisions, hold public hearings, and adopt a budget.
With anticipated rising costs in utilities and health insurance, combined with slumping sales tax revenues, Skipper said measures had to be taken to ensure the budget would be balanced.
Skipper said the budget had to be prepared in a way to avoid any potential city employee layoffs.
Budget proposals
Skipper, who's been the city's chief financial officer since 1983, said department heads usually submit their own proposals to the city administration for review.
This year, he said, city leaders did most of the work themselves.
Although department heads weren't given as much input in the process, Skipper said they weren't totally excluded either. He said city leaders considered department heads' requests by talking with them individually.
One area where Skipper said he didn't want to see an increase was in property taxes. With Meridian's history as a retail center, he said the city usually relies more on sales tax than property taxes for revenue.
When sales decrease, however, the city's only recourse is to raise property taxes.
Financial outlook
Although the financial outlook may seem gloomy Skipper said the economic slide should eventually stop.
New retail expansion in the form of a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse could help stop the economic bleeding, he said.
Despite the city's lack of new industry in the area, Skipper said he believed city leaders are doing everything in their power to get new businesses here to boost tax revenues. Last week city, county and business leaders announced they were close to completing a deal that could bring up to 300 new manufacturing jobs to Meridian.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3226, or e-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.

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