“I think we should stop paying our taxes, and maybe they will listen to us.”
Those were the words of Yazoo City resident Natalie Gibbs as she and a group of about 20 residents left Thursday’s proposed budget hearing with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The residents appeared frustrated as many voiced their opposition to the tax hike that will come with the city’s proposed budget.
Taxes for Yazoo City residents will increase by 4.21 mills for the upcoming fiscal year budget. The total millage rate for the city of Yazoo City will increase from 82.37 mills to 85.55 mills.
Marshall Conico, financial advisor for the city of Yazoo City, said the increase comes with the request by the municipal school district and the approval of a new bond issue for city improvements.
The school district is requesting 1.03 mills, and 3.18 mills will be used for the city’s bond issue, which was approved on May 13.
“While no increase will occur for general purpose funds, revenues have increased slightly due to new growth within the city,” Conico said. “Grant funds awarded at no cost to the city will increase revenues with no increase in millage. Matching grant funds are also included. These grant funds are for various city-wide capital improvement projects.”
Mayor Diane Delaware said the $3.5 million bond issue will address capital improvement projects, including street repairs. She also added that the city is legally obligated to accept the school’s request for a millage increase.
Many residents took issue with the aldermen and department heads receiving pay raises in the upcoming budget. Aldermen Andre Lloyd and Aubry Brent Jr. will cap their salaries at $11,000 due to receiving state retirement. Alderman Sir Johnathan Rucker said he will decline his salary increase. Aldermen Ron Johnson’s salary will increase by three percent to about $26,000 annually.
Based on a Mississippi Municipal League survey, Yazoo City’s salary for aldermen is the third-highest in the state.
Department heads will also see a pay raise “to align Yazoo City to more comparable levels across the state.”
Pat Anderson, a city resident, voiced her disappointment that her alderman, Lloyd, was not even present at the budget hearing. However, during the regular board meeting that following Monday, Lloyd apologized for not being present and encouraged anyone with questions to contact him.
Anderson continued by saying that the city does not have the tax base to support a continuing rise in the millage rate. Based on a recent Census report, 49 percent of Yazoo City’s population is at poverty level.
“We have such a small tax base, and that is the problem,” said Pat Anderson. “People are leaving. Our population is declining. We talk about having salaries based on the state of Mississippi. We are not the state of Mississippi. We are Yazoo City. We are dwindling.”
Anderson said she wishes the city would take the same approach private businesses must take when money gets tight.
“At the chemical plant, when we had hard times, we didn’t get raises,” Anderson said. “We had layoffs or we just had to deal with it the best way we could. In times like these, I shouldn’t see raises. I should see people buckling their belts and doing the right thing.”
Some residents said regardless of what pushes the tax increase, whether it be a bond issue or not…an increase is an increase.
Francine Wallace said she would be supportive of a tax increase if she saw improved city services. She said that she has to constantly contact the street department when it comes to collection of debris or trash, adding that many piles decompose before city workers even show up.
“I don’t feel like I am receiving the services that I am paying for in taxes,” Wallace said. “Services are supposed to be provided without having to continue to hound someone to come out and do what they were supposed to do in the first place.”
Mary Brown said the taxes within Yazoo City are higher than other municipalities that provide better services.
“We are paying more than some of these other towns, and we don’t have the services,” Brown said.
Kay Mills, who is also frustrated with the tax increase, said she believes the city was not proactive in informing the citizens of the proposed budget hearing. Some residents agreed with Mills, stating that the only way they knew of the budget hearing was through The Yazoo Herald.
“I am a part of the Text Yazoo program through the city,” Mills said. “I get texts constantly when it comes to selling surplus equipment or other municipal board training. I did not receive one single text about this meeting; not a single one.”
During Thursday’s meeting, Rucker was the sole opposing vote in adopting the tax levies.
The city council will adopt its proposed budget and proposed tax levies for fiscal year 2020 on Sept. 3, at 10 a.m. in the City Hall board room.