Council Doubts Mayor Melton’s Rosy Budget Talk

Several Jackson City Council members disagree with Mayor Frank Melton’s recent assessment that the city budget is in wonderful financial shape. Melton said at a February press conference, and repeated in recent Jackson Free Press interviews, that the budget is in “the best fi nancial shape” it’s ever been in, which prompted raised eyebrows after the city announced days later that it was calling for a 3-percent cutback in all departments. The mayor then blamed sliding sales revenue and demanded that all unfilled positions be frozen. He also asked department heads to cut back on overtime pay, travel and office supplies.

Melton’s claims to the JFP about the amount of money in the city’s reserves—$8 million—was actually off by about $300,000, according to City Administration Director Rick Hill. Hill said the reserve fund was $8.3 million. Melton also claimed the amount was about $3 million above the state-mandated requirement of $5 million. The required amount is actually $7.5 million.

Crisler was quick to attribute the healthy reserve fund to the council rather than the mayor, who had pushed for problematic employee pay raises and summer programs throughout 2008 and 2009.

Melton complained to the JFP that the council had repeatedly voted down pay raises, though Crisler said Melton had not properly accounted for the raises in the budget. Ward 1 Councilman Jeff Weill pointed out that the administration had been willing to consider an employee pay raise as recently as March, even after announcing the 3-percent cuts.

“We hear the budget is the best ever, and then we hear two weeks later about falling sales tax receipts, but then a week later they submit a request for a $2-an-hour city employee pay raise,” Weill said.

Jackson Free Press, 4/1/9