Desoto County News

Hernando aldermen review budget process, ARPA project funds

It may be months before the next fiscal year budget for the City of Hernando starts, but city aldermen are already talking about what that budget should look like.  

During Tuesday night’s meeting at City Hall, aldermen talked about the budget process, a discussion started by Aldermen Ben Piper, who threw out some potential goals.  One is building on a contingency or rainy day fund in the budget for the unexpected.  

“I think that’s something that we must do to protect the livelihood of the people who work for the city,” Piper said. “I would like to see the city have at least 10 percent of the annual budget put into a contingency fund, whether that is in one budget year or in three budget years, that needs to be figured out.”

Piper also suggested that the city look at having as much as $2.5 million available for neighborhood streets as a goal.    

Mayor Chip Johnson, during the discussion, pointed out that contingency dollars and the amount of payroll increases for city employees are the major things that are left until the end of the budget process.  

“If we knew the contingency numbers we were trying to get at and we knew a proposed payroll increase and plug those in first, then we can build a budget around those,” Johnson said. “They are both pretty major.”

Johnson added pay increases will also be an important matter to consider when the board delves more deeply into the budget.  

“We’re not going to top what Southaven and Olive Branch do, but we need to stay competitive,” Johnson said. “We need to be thinking toward a good pay increase for the employees because they’re the ones who keep us working every day.”

Another topic discussed Tuesday concerned the projects the city had applied for under the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds.  The list of projects was submitted with the assumption and knowledge that the dollar amount allocated to Hernando would not cover everything. However, state officials approved all of the eligible projects submitted for Hernando and the city was now faced with determining what projects could and could not be done with ARPA money within a three-year timeline. Tuesday’s discussion came about because the city needed to respond and quickly tell the state what projects it wanted funded.  

One project in particular that drew the board’s attention was the Green T sewer project.

“We have a slight chance that the Green T project can be covered by a STAG (State and Tribal Assistance) Grant,” Johnson said. “I’ve talked to Sen. (Roger) Wicker’s office but have not gotten a real good response on it. I’m not sure about (Sen.) Cindy Hyde-Smith’s office but got kind of a lukewarm response as well.  We’re not going to get that through (U.S. Rep.) Trent Kelly’s office, he’s going with us on something different next year.”  

Johnson added that all of the projects are important and would be done, but the city may need to borrow money for some of it. 

“My recommendation would be that we pull the Green T sewer project off this list and hope for the STAG grant,” Johnson said. “If we don’t get it, then we can get some low-interest rate money that the state has set aside for these type projects and borrow the money,” adding that the city has typically had to borrow money for many similar-type projects the ARPA money is funding instead this time.

As the discussion continued, Ward 3 Alderman Bruce Robinson wanted to make sure that the Green T sewer project is not forgotten.  

“I don’t mind if we take it off, but I want a commitment that we are going to do it,” Robinson said.  

As it turned out, Robinson moved to take the Green T sewer project off the ARPA list and have the project covered through a bond or loan to move forward on that.  Another project would also have to be lowered by about $43,000, Robinson said. 

The motion was approved on a 6-1 vote with Piper voting no.  

Among other items the Board of Aldermen considered Tuesday night, an interlocal agreement was approved with the county for the County Tax Assessor and County Tax Collector to collect the ad valorem taxes for the cities in DeSoto County.  

The city is entering into a partnership with the North Mississippi Disc Golf Club to assist in the development of an 18-hole disc golf course at Renasant Park. 

“We had some people who play disc golf at a high level come talk to us and tell us they wanted to help with their own labor and help us design an 18-hole course,” Mayor Johnson said. “We’re requesting approval to start a partnership with them to work and design an 18-hole course and be part of the labor when we build that thing.”

Johnson added most players of disc golf prefer playing an 18-hole course versus a 9-hole course.  

City parks and recreation director Jared Barkley received approval to hire a Sports Turf Supervisor, who would be in charge of developing and maintaining sports fields, including the soccer fields and the football field at Kuykendall Park.  

The board also approved polling places for upcoming elections to be: Ward One and Ward Two polling at the Gale Center, Ward Three and Four at Redemption Church on Highway 51, and Ward Five and Six at Colonial Hills Church on Montieth Avenue.  

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