GAUTIER, MS (WLOX)- When Gautier's new city clerk Adrienne Howell started working on the city's 2010 budget, it didn't take her long to realize, things weren't adding up.
"I just gasped," she said when she realized an old mistake that cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Howell learned that the 2009 budget was based on a miscalculation. The city's total property tax assessment is the sum of several different categories. One of those is "Real Property."
With last year's budget, the total assessed amount, $122,486,719 was accidentally plugged in as the real property value, which was $91,333,048. The other categories were then factored in to yield an assessed property value of $144,961,708. Had the proper value been plugged in, the assessed property value would have been $114,003,443, about $30,000,000 less.
Last year's millage rate decrease of six mils only compounded the loss. The bottom line, Gautier now faces a $680,000 shortfall.
"We're in a rut," said Mayor Tommy Fortenberry, who took office this summer, the same time Howell was hired. "We're in a rut that was not created by this mayor or this council."
Fortenberry said the problem forced the board to raise the millage rate 1.5 mils, or 10 percent just to make ends meet. The millage rate is still lower than it was two years ago. It will, however, result in a tax increase for most Gautier residents. (See the chart below for more details.)
"We had hoped to add employees," Fortenberry said about the upcoming year. "There's no new positions that's been added in the City of Gautier. We had hoped to give raises. We had hoped to do a lot of things."
Now, city departments are consolidating and cutting costs wherever they can. Howell has consolidated their more than 50 separate funds into just more than 12. She said some of the biggest cuts came from the police department.
"The police department actually in this current budget was operating under a $3.2 million budget," Howell said. "He's [Police Chief Ed Williams is] only presenting a budget to this council for $2.9 million. So as you can see that's a pretty good decrease in the operation of his department."
Gautier officials said this problem won't be solved in a year. In fact, it will take several years to get things back on track.
Mayor Fortenberry put it in terms of a boxing tournament.
"This is just round one of the championship match," he said. "This is our Katrina. This is this mayor and this council's Katrina, and we don't have MEMA and FEMA to help us."
Despite the daunting tasks ahead, Fortenberry said he's confident he, the new city council and the new administration, along with the citizens of Gautier will be able to thrive in coming years.
"We have the right pieces in place," Fortenberry said. "The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth of it. The City of Gautier will pull out of this rut."
Fortenberry and Howell said no city services will be cut.
Here is a sample breakdown, according to the City of Gautier, of the effect the millage increase is expected to have on your taxes.