With no members of the public present leaving only council members, city staff and DPS officials in the room for the public hearing on the city's Fiscal Year 2008 budget Wednesday, Mayor Mike Marshall suggested it be conducted in a "somewhat informal and open" manner.
City Manager Doug Friend advised it was the next to last scheduled public hearing and opportunity for "any public comment that would come in suggesting we ought to add programs, delete programs" included in the budget.
The final scheduled public hearing for the budget will be at 7:15 a.m. Monday after which the plan is to finalize the budget ordinance to ready it for a first reading at the June 4 Council meeting, Friend said.
The proposed budget was prepared following the return of budget requests from the city's department heads, according to Friend, and reflects direction from the Council to prepare a budget which "by any means necessary ... fulfills promises and pledges" made to voters in return for them approving the city's 1-cent sales tax.
Friend said these commitments were: to maintain competitive wages and full staffing for DPS "in our efforts to reduce crime;" to fully fund the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority so it could clean up dilapidated properties and begin redevelopment efforts; and to pay off the expansion of the Southeast Missouri-Sikeston, formerly known as the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center. The budget as presented "incorporates all those goals and objectives," he said.
"This budget includes a 3 percent COLA to Public Safety personnel," Friend said.
"Public Safety is no doubt the key to our success in this town," Marshall said. He said he not only wants Sikeston to have "the best-paid, best-trained, best-equipped Public Safety in the area," he also wants everybody in the area to know they are. "It's perception. We've had a pretty rough reputation over the years and I think we're in the position to change that."
DPS Director Drew Juden said the 3-percent raise for DPS personnel isn't quite as much as he believes is needed because, excepting bonuses, they haven't had an increase in wages for several years.
"It's a start," he said. "I think we're headed in the right direction."
In discussing how DPS salaries are in comparison with other departments in the area, Marshall said starting salaries are only part of the equation. "I want the middle line and up to be well paid," he said.
Juden said DPS has been doing a good job bringing in experienced police officers. "We probably haven't hired what I call a rookie in several years," he said.
While no cost of living raise was included in the proposed budget for other city personnel, it does include a $500 bonus for them, according to Friend.
Councilman Jerry Pullen suggested looking at the numbers to fund a 3-
percent COLA for all city personnel. "I, for one, would like to see how we could make that happen," he said.
Karen Bailey, deputy city clerk, reported it would cost $22,000 more than providing the $500 bonuses.
Friend said that unlike a bonus, a COLA is an increase that must be included in future budgets as well.
As there are "a lot of things that are not going to be reflected in next year's budget," Pullen said, such as legal expenses for opposing an increase in railroad traffic through the city, "I think the whole staff needs to be looked at for the increase, not just Public Safety."
Marshall said he, too, would also like to see cost of living raises for all city personnel.
As for the LCRA, "this would be the last year of the $500,000 (per year) commitment," Friend said, after which the plan is to allocate $100,000 per year.
Friend said to free up some general revenue, the proposed budget has street personnel salaries coming from the Transportation Sales Tax fund.
Some funding for DPS was also secured from outside sources. "We've developed two very strong partnerships," Friend said.
The first is with the schools who have agreed to fund school resource officer and D.A.R.E. officer positions. The second is the Sikeston Housing Authority which during Monday's special meeting agreed to increase an initial offer of $240,000 to fund an increase in police presence around public housing up to $392,000.
"We're probably going to have to do a sales tax down the road," Marshall said. He said when a sales tax proposal is presented to city voters, it needs to be "more defined and focused" than the county's sales tax proposal was. Marshall later added he thinks it may be around two years before the time would be right to ask voters for a sales tax. "I don't think the time to do that is now," he said.