New city hires cause budget woes 

Published Sept. 4, 2015 in The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Thirteen new faces were added to Natchez’s employee roster within the past year — a point of apparent surprise to some city leaders during a recent budget workshop.

Several Natchez aldermen said that increase has been a game changer when it comes to budgeting for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

“I’m looking at this budget and all these raises, and this board hasn’t approved any of them,” Ward 2 Alderman Rickey Gray said during a budget work session Tuesday. “That’s a huge problem for me.”

Natchez Personnel Officer Brenda Cantu said the city had 225 employees when it budgeted for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

That number, Cantu said, didn’t account for three vacant positions within the city.

Once those three positions were filled, Cantu said the city hired 10 more employees — resulting in a 13-employee increase.

Of those 10 employees, three were hired within the Convention and Visitors Bureau, four were hired in public works, one to the city clerk’s office, one to the Natchez Police Department and one to recreation.

With benefits, those 10 additional employees will cost the city $337,063.84, Cantu said.

“The biggest part of our budget is always employee salaries,” Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields said. “That’s no surprise. But we need to tighten our belts here.”

According to the city’s policy handbook, hiring employees is the responsibility of the appropriate department head with approval of the mayor and board of aldermen.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Maths said she was aware of some hires, but not all.

“If you’re looking at hires that come through the CVB, we have no control over that,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “They have a separate board and a separate budget.”

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith said if a new hire affects the city’s budget, the board needs to be alerted.

“If a department director stays within his or her budget, then I have no problem with the new hire,” Smith said. “But if a new hire exceeds budget, then we have to look at it and decide whether it warrants a revised and increased budget, or whether they can accommodate the new hire with a reduction somewhere else.”

The four public works hires, which includes two grass cutters, an engineer technician and demolition crew operator, were necessary, Arceneaux-Mathis said.

Assistant City Clerk Wendy McClain, who was one of the 10 employees hired this year, said the city should have seen the employment spike coming.

“They should have revised their budget when they noticed new employees were added,” McClain said. “Our insurance is going up about $200,000 this year, and $91,000 is because of new employees.”

Arceneaux-Mathis said new employees coupled with increased health insurance costs puts the board in a bind when it comes to budgeting for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

“We’ve been dealing with budgeting and trying to understand how much money we have for a couple of years now,” she said. “Maybe this year, when we get the budget situated, we can do some type of holdback on any type of hiring.”