The number crunching and juggling of figures continues for the City of Southaven ahead of a public hearing and then final adoption of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.
Tuesday, the various department heads of city government detailed their needs and desires for the upcoming fiscal year and beyond before the Board of Aldermen and Mayor Darren Musselwhite.
The budget workshop, as it was called, allowed each department to present their specific budget requests, in light of Musselwhite asking each department to cut their budget, at the same time highlighting areas of interest and, in some cases, providing a long-term vision for their department.
At the end of the two-and-a-half hour long session, City Administrator Chris Wilson told aldermen the proposed city budget would be balanced and not have a property tax or utility rate increase, despite being about $3 million more than the current year’s budget.
Covering the difference would come in a $6 million bond being proposed that would allow the city to continue to provide the same level of services, while also covering the loss of money from the June 30 sunset of the Penny for the Parks restaurant tax levy, allowed to expire without a renewal by the state Legislature in the last regular session.
Police Chief Steve Pirtle told aldermen that he wants to hire six new officers and has applied for a federal grant to fund their salaries. Four of the officers would be assigned to the department’s Street Crime division and be combined with the Gang Task Force together for a total of eight in that division.
At the same time, Pirtle wants to hire more civilians who would fill roles now done by uniformed officers, allowing them more time on the streets.
In addition, Pirtle said the police department is in dire need of a larger building, saying dispatchers, in particular, are tight for space and there’s no room to house a growing police force.
“We’ve got captains’ offices that we’re actually using to store equipment and such, because we have no additional place for storage,” Pirtle noted.
IT and Emergency Communications Director Chris Shelton also underscored the need for more space.
“We have made the best use out of that (current) facility for several years, but it has served its purpose and it is just not an ideal facility, for a police department or for an emergency communications center,” Shelton said. “We’re looking at a 2021 timeline, but it needs to be something that would hold our IT infrastructure and a 911 center, but also have a room that would serve as an EOC Operations Center.”
Fire Chief Roger Thornton, who noted the recent awarding of a federal SAFER grant to hire 12 new firefighters to cover a new Fire Station 5 in the southern part of Southaven, said his future priorities included the land acquisition for Station 5.
Thornton added that, at some point, doing improvements to an existing ambulance and a purchase of a new fire engine would be needed. Thornton said a new engine would cost about $550,000.
Aldermen spent several minutes discussing the future usage of the Arena at Southaven, especially for volleyball.
Parks and Recreation Director Wes Brown said he is considering adding a volleyball director, first in a volunteer role, but with future plans for it to become a paid position.
“Because of the interest in volunteers who have experience running volleyball tournaments, our plan is to start with volunteers and see how it goes,” Musselwhite said. “At that point we would know more about how that would justify having a full-time person handling volleyball there.”
Musselwhite went on to again stress his belief that the Arena is an outstanding, but underused, facility.
“It (volleyball) is not to replace the events that are there now,” the mayor stressed. “There’s an enormous demand for volleyball. We have hopes of keeping all the other events that are there, but also adding volleyball tournaments and a rec league.”
Alderman Robbie Hale, whose ward includes the Arena, added he, too, felt the Arena was underused and needed to include more activities there.
A public hearing on the proposed Southaven budget is planned for the Board’s Aug. 15 meeting. Final adoption of the budget must come by Sept. 15 for the next fiscal year, which for Mississippi municipalities begins on Oct. 1.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.