The City of Winona Board of Aldermen approved a budget of $15,249,930 for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which includes pay increases citywide, as well as increases for the mayor and board of aldermen.
The city is not raising millage, which will remain at 49.5 mills.
The pay increases were presented to the board as a consent agenda, but it was tabled so the board could have time to discuss the increases further. However, the adopted budget includes the increases. Mayor Aaron Dees and each of the five aldermen will receive an additional $2,000 annually. It also includes pay increases for all city department heads and city employees.
With the state deadline for budget approval looming, the board unanimously approved the proposed budget with the understanding that it can be amended before January 1, 2022.
However, the new budget takes effect on Oct. 1 when ad valorem tax revenues begin to roll in from the county. The current budget ends on September 30.
Mayor Aaron Dees said the new budget includes four new police cars, an EPA grant for $3 million, a new seven-and-half-ton HVAC unit for city hall, new police radios, and labor costs for two inmates to do maintenance work around the city. He said it also included the repayment of the bond for artificial turf at the Winona Recreational Park.
Resident Gloria Johnson asked if residents were allowed to speak during the process, and Dees said they were not at Wednesday’s special-called meeting. Board Attorney Adam Kirk said that Johnson should have spoken at the public hearing that was held on September 7 prior to the regularly scheduled meeting.
However, Johnson pointed out that the budget wasn’t ready, and she didn’t see the budget until yesterday.
Alderman Mickey Austin said that no one was at the public hearing.
“Yes, I was. I was there,” Johnson said. “And there was no budget to go over.”
According to Johnson, although a public meeting was held, residents were never given the chance to speak on the budget because it wasn’t ready.
“So, you mean to tell me that this board is adopting a budget with as many pages as this one is, that they received the night before?” Johnson asked.
Johnson also took issue to raises that included the mayor and aldermen. She said there’s no reason a board that has been in office for 90 days should give themselves a raise. Austin said that the last time the board gave themselves a raise was four years ago.
“And it still wasn’t much,” Austin said.
“I feel like we’re being played,” Johnson said.
Dees told Johnson that the increase was only $2,000 a year per position and that if she wanted to speak, then she could’ve asked to be placed on the agenda at the regular meeting.
“But, when you take office you’re doing a service, not to make money. If that’s the case, you should get yourself a job,” she said.
Johnson also said she didn’t know that they were holding a special-called meeting and she questioned as to whether it was done properly.
“I know it’s the way it’s been done, but is it the way it’s supposed to be done?” she asked.
City Clerk June Williams said she sent the notice of the special-called meeting to the media and posted it to alert the public of the meeting.
When the board discussion turned to pay increases for the department heads and the city workers, Alderwoman Sylvia Clark pointed out that city employees only received a $1 per hour raise but department heads are receiving between a $4,000 to $5,000 raise and Williams is receiving a $7,000 raise.
“I want to speak on the behalf of the laborers,” Clark said. “I’m not understanding why they’re only receiving a $1 raise.”
She said department heads are receiving a higher increase than their workers.
“The rich are getting richer and the poor, we’re just giving them just enough to get by,” she said.
Clark said she did research in comparing what department heads in surrounding areas such as Grenada and Greenwood make and some department heads in Winona are making more.
“I just want to be fair,” she said. “These people are out in the elements. If I’m out in the heat 10 minutes I feel like I’m going to fall out. Let’s be fair.”
She said that with Biewer Lumber coming, the city needed to give their employees more if they wanted to keep them.
Alderman Charles Harris said the city had to cut $639,000 from the budget, and cuts that eliminated two positions. However, no one with the city went into detail as to what was specifically cut from the budget and why. Harris said he came to city hall and sat down with Williams and gave his input.
Which led to another discussion – Austin, Clark, Johnson and Alderwoman Linda Purnell said they had no idea they could come discuss and provide input for the budget.
“You know because he’s your boss,” Purnell said. “You know things that we don’t know.”
“When it was the previous board, I heard it was only the mayor and the clerk who did the budget,” Harris said.
“We ain’t talking about the past, we’re talking about the future and the future is now in this room,” Purnell said.
Dees said that he did tell the aldermen to look over the budget and give him ideas. Clark said she did that and she voiced her opinion to Dees, but she was never told that she could come down.
Clark also suggested cutting the city’s portion to Winona Main Street/Montgomery County Economic Development Partnership.
“I think we need to get our own economic development center,” she said. “We need new ideas and fresh ideas.”
Austin said the city pays a portion to the Partnership and the county also pays in a portion.
“I know, but it’s not growing us,” Clark said.
“I think we’re growing more than anybody,” Austin said.
Austin said that Clark should come up with a plan and come to the board with her idea, which she agreed to.