Meridian, Miss. One of the most controversial topics in the Meridian City budget has been salary increases for three new department heads. Ward 2 Councilman Dustin Markham wants to focus on city services and civil servants first.
"All of those things are a priority to me, and they are superior to a department head getting a $10,000 raise when they already make $75,000," said Markham.
Mayor Percy Bland says he believes that the pay bumps are justified, given the department heads' qualifications. he says that the salaries of those three positions are just a small part of the city's $35 million budget.
"Some people may not think those salaries are justified, but at the end of the day, I think we should have a good return on our investment," said Bland. "And at the end of the day, I think we need to discuss some bigger issues, not only in that budget, but to move this city forward."
While trying to balance the budget, one thing the city council and mayor agree on is the mayor's livable wage proposal.
City employees that make below $9.00 an hour will be bumped up to that rate, and employees that make between $9.00 an hour and $40,000 a year will get a $400 raise. The money for all of this will come from the denial of a $200,000 increase in the Homeland Security budget.
"I think that will help increase morale," said Markham. "It will improve the retention rate, and help our employees feel that we are doing the best we possibly can for them."
The city council and mayor both met with brokers to discuss whether to stay with the city's current employee insurance plan. If the city switches, they would save $280,000, but that decision remains up to the council.
The proposed budget is contingent upon tax revenue numbers the city has not yet received from the county tax assessor. Those numbers could cause some drastic changes to have to be made to the budget.