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City leaders say public satisfied with tax increase

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Sept. 6, 2001
City leaders said Wednesday during a regularly scheduled press conference that both public records and city officials are accessible to taxpayers.
Mayor John Robert Smith also said he has received no complaints about a proposed 5 percent tax increase.
Ninety-nine percent of the comments have been positive, he said, adding most acknowledge "these are tough times," while others compliment his staff.
These remarks follow a public hearing Tuesday on the city's proposed 2002 budget attended by fewer than 10 people.
The mayor said the public's failure to attend the public hearing may be a positive sign. He said he thinks the public's lack of input means they understand the difficulty city leaders face in the budget process and have confidence in their ability.
Public hearing comments
Three attendees made comments at the budget hearing. Two of those Bill McBride and Ernest Smith said budget information is hard to get and that the copies of the budget the public does get are hard to decipher.
City Clerk Ed Skipper and Chief Administrative Officer Ken Storms are both available for questions as well, he said.
He said city leaders talked with three people in the past week about immigration and foreign currency, demonstrating that, "We try to be helpful even if it's totally outside our jurisdiction."
Requesting information
Skipper said McBride was the only person to come to City Hall and request a copy of the budget before Tuesday's public hearing. At the hearing, McBride said the copy he received is a "summary," and that citizens apparently "aren't privy to line-item budgets."
Skipper said he did not handle McBride's request, but said he reviewed it after McBride's comments.
Skipper said McBride understands the process of requesting information under state guidelines, "so I was a little surprised at some of his comments."
When asked if anyone can review the line-item budget as long as a proper request is submitted, Skipper said people "have access to anything that's a public record."
He said there are charges for receiving copies, and while it may not take a lot of time to fill out the request, it "may take some time to respond to it."
Smith pointed out that while City Council President Dr. George Thomas put a five-minute time limit on comments, he did not enforce it.
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.
In other matters:
Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith offered the following comments on a variety of issues facing the city at a Wednesday press conference:
While city councilmen have discussed the possibility of combining the city police chief and fire chief positions under one public safety director as a cost-cutting measure, Smith said, "We do not intend on merging the two." The police chief's position has been vacant since former Chief Gregg Lewis retired in July.
Smith said city leaders continue interviewing candidates for police chief and public works director's positions. He said he does not know when the positions will be filled. "We're going to take our time and make sure we have the right people with the right set of qualities and expertise."
Smith said East Mississippi Business Development Corporation officials continue to work with a company interested in moving into the Delco-Remy building. He said he expects to know something more by early fall. He declined to give further details, but said, "Negotiations with the company are done … but no one ever said this was a done deal or it would have been a lot bigger announcement."