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Few residents appear at budget hearing

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Sept. 5, 2001
A public hearing Tuesday night to gather input on Meridian's proposed 2001-2002 budget attracted less than 10 people, and three spoke to the city council.
Two of the three who spoke disagreed as much with the budget process, and what they see as inaccessibility to both city officials and budget figures, as they did to a proposed 5 percent tax increase.
Mayor John Robert Smith, though, said the proposed budget has been available for review at City Hall for at least three weeks. City leaders could vote on the budget Sept. 18; the next fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
Tax increase
McBride said city leaders have not discussed alternatives to a proposed property tax increase. "Without a (tax) increase, what specific services would be affected?" he asked.
McBride pointed out that no ward meetings took place during the budget process to explain to residents details about decreasing revenues, funding cuts and tax increases.
Like McBride, Ernest Smith said city leaders should better define obscure terms like the "professional services" heading listed on the available copies of the budget.
Smith said he would almost have to be a certified public accountant to decipher his copy. He said city leaders ask for public input, but "when we come in here, it's like a wrestling match."
Too complex
Smith said the provided copy of the budget is "hard to understand," and it's "hard to get information" from city leaders.
Smith suggested various ways to cut costs, all of which city leaders said they had examined or are examining. He said if residents are going to pay higher taxes, they deserve more policemen and firemen.
Resident Harry Routt asked pointed questions, such as how many employees the city lacks and if taxes would be cut later if revenues increase.
He said he would like to see taxes remain the same. But "judging from the number of people here," he said, he doesn't think that will happen.
Leaders speak
Councilmen and other city officials attempted to answer residents' questions after City Clerk Ed Skipper gave a brief overview of Meridian's revenue and expenditures at the start of the hearing.
Skipper said major problems facing city leaders during the budget process include rising insurance and utility costs. He also said the city must provide money for employees retiring under the city's old retirement system; he said previous administrations did not put aside enough money for retirement.
Insurance costs for city employee dependents is lower than expected, he said, down to an 8 percent increase from a projected 27 percent increase. The current $500 deductible would remain in place.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3275, or e-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.