Clarksdale saving more than $50,000 on insurance, not raising taxes in 2023-24

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By Josh Troy

Clarksdale Advocate

Clarksdale officials expect to save more than $50,000 on medical insurance for the 2023-24 fiscal year and not raise any taxes at the same time.

Discussion about the 2023-24 finances came during the city’s budget hearing. The Board of Mayor and Commissioners is expected to vote on a budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year beginning in October at the Sept. 11 meeting.

Former City Clerk and current consultant Cathy Clark said Clarksdale will be paying $475 per employee for medical insurance each month in 2023-24. The City has been paying $513 per employee for medical insurance each month. Blue Cross & Blue Shield is the city’s insurance carrier.

Clark said the city should have approximately 115 employees, saving $4,370 in medical insurance each month and saving $52,440 for the entire fiscal year. The insurance coverage employees receive will be the same.

Clark said the general fund for 2023-24 will have $5,711,563.34, just as it has in the past.

“I tried to maintain our budget exactly the same way that it has been with the departments,” she said.

Mayor Chuck Espy stressed the importance of saving money on insurance premiums.

“Good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, we were able to cut insurance premiums for the city,” he said.

“We have never in this administration raised taxes. Just think about that for a minute. Other cities are raising taxes. Clarksdale hasn’t raised a tax in this entire administration. It speaks to what we’ve been able to do as a team.”

Espy said he could not promise the good times would continue, but he did say the city would keep being good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars. He added he did not expect people to talk about the positive news on social media.

“People thrive on bad news, and they don’t thrive on what we’re doing right,” he said.

Clark said the tax levy will be 0.16295 in 2023-24, and it is 0.16367 for the current fiscal year. That means the tax levy will decrease 0.00072 for the upcoming fiscal year.

The total tax levy includes general fund, parks, library, disability and relief, the Delta Blues Museum, and bond issues. The tax levy has produced $12,083,063.55 for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

According to the budget Clark proposed at the hearing, the City is expected to receive a total increase of $1,738,561 in taxes from the County.

Clark said the value of residential property taxes the City will receive from the County decreased by $1,014,804 for the upcoming fiscal year. Regular residential property taxes went from $45,711,548 to $45,196,646, while annexed residential property taxes went from $13,961,248 to $13,461,346. The lowering of taxes in regular and annexed residential properties adds up to $1,014,804.

“When you annex an area in, they don’t pay city school tax,” Clark said. “They still are paying County school taxes. Regular property is City of Clarksdale taxes, plus the City school.”

Business property taxes the City will receive from the County increased $2,039,476 for the 2023-24 fiscal year. Regular business property taxes increased from $9,156,483 to $9,983,995, and annexed business property taxes increased from $4,616,594 to $5,828,858.

Motor vehicle taxes the City will receive from the County increased an estimated $173,278 for the 2023-24 fiscal year. Regular motor vehicle taxes are expected to decrease $122,798, but annexed motor vehicle taxes are expected to increase $296,076.

The public utility taxes the City will receive from the County will increase $540,611 in 2023-24. They will go from $4,384,061 to $4,924,672.

Clark also said the value of a tax mill in 2023-24 will be $81,593, and it has been $80,871 during the current fiscal year.

As required by the State of Mississippi, City employees will receive a 2% increase in their retirement pay for the next three years.

Clark said it would come out of city funds, not the paychecks of employees.

Local entities approached the board about funding they would receive from the city in 2023-24.

Katie Laney represented Clarksdale Speech & Hearing. The projected budget says Clarksdale Speech & Hearing will receive $16,000 in 2023-24, just as it did in the current fiscal year.

“First and foremost, I want to thank you so much for your continuing support because without you, we would not be able to keep our doors open,” Laney said.

Laney said a lot of children slipped through the cracks during the COVID pandemic.

“We have employed more speech therapists since we have such needs since COVID has hit,” she said.

Laney said Clarksdale Speech & Hearing has branched out and provided services in other counties. Benita Howard represented SLA Jones Activity Center, which received $30,000 in the current fiscal year, and the same amount is budgeted for 2023-24.

Howard acknowledged Clark said there would not be an increase in funding.

“I just want to say I appreciate what you and the County have done already,” Howard said.

Anja Thiessen represented Spring Initiative, a local non-profit organization that works with children, going into its 13th year. She talked about the many children who have come through the Spring Initiative program and graduated from college.

“They take their life, their vision, and their passion really seriously,” Thiessen said.

Thiessen also acknowledged former Ward 2 Commissioner Ken Murphey, who died last Wednesday.

“He’s been a big supporter for all of these years,” Thiessen said.

Spring Initiative received $8,000 during the current fiscal year, and the same amount was budgeted for 2023-24. Thiessen requested $12,000, but as of now, no changes have been made in the budget.

Milton Williams spoke on behalf of the United Mentoring Program.

The United Mentoring Program is new, and the City budgeted $10,000 for it.

“For the last seven months, we’ve had 30 young men attending faithfully on a regular basis,” Williams said.

The United Mentoring Program works with children who have been in trouble and involved with things such as gun violence and drug dealers.

Williams said members of the program are taken to other places at times and taught morals, etiquette, and respect.

“We’d like to thank you all for having faith in us, standing behind us,” said Williams to the Board of Mayor and Commissioners. “It means a lot. If you change one life, you’re doing a whole lot.”

Espy said it was important to have both Spring Initiative and the United Mentoring Program in Clarksdale.

“Spring Initiative is there to give them a boost, and then Mr. Williams is there to literally save them from getting killed,” Espy said. “A perfect combination.

“We’re only as good as what they’re able to do out there in the community. We need you guys. We’re very appreciative of every aspect you have.”

Ward 3 Commissioner Willie Turner expressed similar sentiments.

“Sometimes the community does a lot of finger-pointing, but there are resources out there,” he said. “People are trying.”

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