Meridian, Miss. Officials in Meridian are closer to deciding on a budget for next year. The city council met Tuesday morning, but no action was taken on the issue.
When budget talks first started, department heads with the new administration were requesting $3.2 million more than what was allocated for the current budget year. That request has since been trimmed. Some council members are now expressing concern about several salary proposals that are being made by the mayor.
"The only way I see that they can be approved at this time is with a tax increase," says council president, Dr. George Thomas. "So, if you're going to add police, increase salaries and increase other items then you have to have a source of money."
Mayor Percy Bland is proposing an almost $10,000 salary increase for both the newly-appointed community development director and police chief. He's also requesting an $85,000 salary for the newly re-instated position of homeland security director.
"It's about being able to recruit and retain the best people," says Bland. "As I've stated, you get what you pay for."
"If the high salaries were necessary, this would be done in other cities and it's not," says Ward 5 councilman, Randy Hammon. "I looked at seven cities comparable to Meridian and those cities do not have the high salaries that we have."
"We're the fourth or fifth largest city in the state of Mississippi, and with a city our size our salaries are comparable with other people in those same job classifications," says Bland. "Those positions have paid those salaries in the past and I don't see why things would be any different during my administration."
To keep down cost, Thomas says changes could be made involving the newly re-stated homeland security office.
"You may not have a homeland security staff. What we've discussed with homeland security is that if it can bring in enough grant money to support itself, that office will be continued,," says Thomas. "If it does not bring in enough money to continue itself, it will be abolished."
Mayor Bland's budget proposal includes: an $85,000 a year salary for both the police chief and newly re-instated position for homeland security director, plus, an $86,000 a year salary for the community development director.
A public hearing on the city's proposed budget for next year will be held Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 5:30 p.m. in city council chambers. At that time residents will have five minutes each to voice their views.