Moss Point to eliminate positions in four departments, including fire chief

Mayor Mario King talks budget specifics; says the city “is breaking even”

Moss Point to eliminate positions in four departments, including fire chief

MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX) - Moss Point city leaders will soon vote on eliminating positions in four departments, including the fire chief.

Tuesday’s meeting begins at 6 p.m at City Hall and is open to the public. The mayor said city employees in eliminated positions will be let go at the end of September.

It’s been a big topic in the community. More than three dozen people have signed a petition to keep Chief Tommy Posey, stating in the letter, “We pray that you reconsider. Our citizens should expect the best and receive the best. The position is vital. It is the central nervous system of the fire department. We need a fire chief. Especially the one we currently have...”

Firefighters and first responders will present the petition to Mayor King and the Board of Aldermen at Tuesday’s meeting. Mayor King is away at an AMA Conference in Dallas, an event he paid to attend.

He spoke to WLOX over the phone about the budget. “We will not pass a budget that is not balanced,” Mayor King said. He added that low revenue has led to a deficit in the General Fund of about $480,000. A millage increase would have offset that deficit, King noted, but that was voted down last week.

UPDATE: The millage rate will not go up in Moss Point. That decision was made at tonight's meeting. The vote on potentially increasing utility rates was tabled until next week.

Posted by Taren Reed WLOX on Tuesday, September 18, 2018

To counter that vote, Mayor King said the city plans to eliminate positions in four departments. The current fire chief makes $102,000 per year, including salary and benefits, according to the mayor, who says the position is “administrative.”

“This position, while essential, his position is just one of those positions that’s necessary to consolidate," he said. “This is just a result of not increasing taxes.”

When asked if the police chief would be let go, Mayor King said no, stating that position entails multiple duties like patrolling, writing tickets and administrative work.

“We’re going to have to cut somewhere,” he said. “We got to figure out a way to cut General Fund.”

King said the fire chief salary is a big chunk of the nearly half a million dollars the city is behind in the General Fund, an account that pays city employees’ salaries and city bills, like copy machines, lawn maintenance, electricity for buildings, materials and supplies, and parks and recreation. A lack of money in the General Fund could also lead to cost saving measures like closing some after school programs that don’t make a profit, the mayor said.

A public safety director will be hired after the fire chief position is eliminated. That person will handle all emergency response, among other things. Mayor King mentioned that someone will be promoted from within and will not receive an increase in pay. That’s something the mayor said his administration has been doing over the past year, restructuring departments to allow for one person to fill multiple job roles.

“We can’t get a loan anymore," said the Mayor.

Something that’s not an option for Moss Point is taking out a loan to offset the General Fund deficit. Mayor King said the city is currently paying back more than five loans, including a $1.5 million contingency bank loan the city borrowed to pay back a $1.2 million utility project loan and give them some cushion. The mayor says that didn’t happen; and a $13 million loan for the McMillan Road Project, where crews made the area more energy efficient.

The city’s debt to income ratio makes it unable to obtain a loan.

The city also budgets $250,000 per year for grants. Grants are free money, but the city must front a percentage of that grant and wait for reimbursement. Mayor King said he has factored that into his budget, which he will present Tuesday.

Without funding from a millage increase in the General Fund, the mayor is proposing $16.8 million for the 2019 fiscal year. King stated, “According to the budget that I presented, we are over, I anticipated, $482,000 of our General Fund. With the tax increase was $17.8 million. That’s how much I anticipated with revenues of $7.8 million. Without that, we have to decrease those revenues.”

The city will also vote on increasing utilities. If approved, utilities would increase by $3.20 for the first 3,000 gallons, then $1.50 per thousand after that.

“It is definitely a 100 percent need increase as well,” Mayor King said. The increase would allow for the city to pay off that $1.2 million utility project loan. Right now, Moss Point is $600,000 behind.

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