Gulfport councilman on budget: Nothing is off the table

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport Council Member Rusty Walker said the city shouldn't rule anything out in solving its budget woes. He said Gulfport can't afford it.

When the fiscal year ends in September, Gulfport officials said the city will have spent $1 million dollars more than it took in. That's about two percent of the overall budget. Finance Director Mike Necaise said the shortfall will take a bite out of the $3 million Gulfport has in the bank. So right now city leaders are looking for solutions.

The cloud hanging over Gulfport City Hall is how to create a balanced budget when sales and ad valorem tax collections are shrinking.

"It's very difficult to continue cutting. I know they've tried doing that," said Gulfport resident Jerry Halderman. "I hate to admit it but it seems to me like they probably need to raise taxes. I know that's not very popular."

Instead of raising taxes, Council Member Rusty Walker wants to take a hard look at employee salaries. Walker said it's time to rescind starting pay levels for new hires which was increased years ago when Gulfport was trying to compete with employers across the southeast.

"What we'd like to do is realign all our new hires and our new benefits to be more congruent with the private market," said Walker. "There is no reason that in the private market they should pay 25 percent less for the same position that in the city we're having performed."

Walker said, "When our citizens are facing foreclosures, and rising health insurance and rising home insurance. We just can't ask them for taxes that's totally off the table at this point."

As for current employees, Walker thinks maybe the city could get more for its dollars.

"We need to look at consolidations. We need to look at metroservices. We need to look at shared services," Walker said, "We need to look at outsourcing and we need to look at greater deficiencies within our departments. Nothing is off the table."

"Keep in mind that all I'm doing is calling attention to the fact that for four years we've had declining revenues that have required budget cuts. The declining revenues are with us. We don't know how long they'll be with us but we know they're with us for the foreseeable future. To bury our head in the sand is no way to fix it."

Gulfport Finance Director Mike Necaise told WLOX it is time for the city to tighten its belt. His recommendations include considering either cutting some city services or providing those services at scaled back levels.

Copyright 2012 WLOX. All rights reserved.