Ridgeland officials are holding early discussions on the budget for next fiscal year, which could include pay raises for both firefighters and police officers.

City Clerk Paula Tierce presented an early draft of the Fiscal 2020 budget to the board and department heads at last week’s meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

She said the current budget draft projects just over $24 million in expenditures, roughly a $1 million increase from 2019.

“This just an early draft, meaning I need input on the bottom lines,” Tierce said. “For instance, if you want to take $2 million off of expenses we need to go back and completely redo this.”

Fire Chief Matt Bailey is seeking a three-percent raise for firefighters. He said Tuesday the bump in pay would help him fill four positions that are currently open.

When Alderman-at-Large D.I. Smith asked if the pay raises would achieve that goal, Bailey said he had received a positive response from both his existing staff and prospective hires, adding that he thought it was the “way to go” moving forward.

He said his biggest retention problem is losing firefighter to non-firefighting jobs.

Police Chief John Neal said is seeking pay raises for his officers as well. He said that by his estimates, he has the “highest-paid metropolitan police force in the tri-county area” and that his biggest competition is losing officers to career-advancing positions in state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“We put the best of the best in the field and these agencies know that,” Neal said. “(The bigger agencies) are hunting over a baited field, and that aggravates me at times, but we are going to continue to put the best of the best out there.”

Both chiefs mentioned putting effort and thought into recruiting and maintaining millennial employees.

Smith asked if they are dealing with more crime in the city, citing the second robbery in a month for the Cappy’s gas station on Highway  51.

Neal said that the recent robberies at Cappy’s, the shooting at Midway Park and the Gamestop robbery all coming in the past month may have given the impression of increased criminal activity, but that looking at crime statistics for the year shows no apparent increase in the number of crimes.

“We are not being overrun,” Neal said.

Neal also said his proposed budget includes new crime mapping software and equipment.

Mayor Gene McGee congratulated Tierce, her staff, and the department heads for being “way ahead of the game” and emphasized the importance of doing next year’s budget right and having it submitted on time.

In other board action, city officials:

•    Renewed a lease agreement with Hemphill Construction for property located at Moon Street and Madison Drive.

•    Approved a budget transfer for the Ridgeland Police Department to Purchase a Polaris Ranger 1000 in the amount of $18,369.83. 

The vehicle is set to accompany a new Jersey barrier and trailer that housed a mobile command center. These previous items were purchased through a $10,000 grant from the Federal Department of Homeland Security. Another $1,000 was awarded to RPD in February. The trailer will facilitate out-of-town aid efforts. 

Chief John Neal said that the vehicle would be used both locally and in other counties. “This can be used both in the field and in the city,” he said.

•    Received a $1,500 training reimbursement from the state for a “refresher class” for a police officer.

•    Approved an estimate for the Jackson Street multi-use path for $122,484.96 with an 80 percent reimbursement form MDOT.

•    Approved a pay estimate for the Lake Harbour Drive Extension Phase B in the amount of $482,250.55 with an 80 percent reimbursement from MDOT.

•    Approved an East Madison County Sewage Disposal Facility budget amendment of $300,000 for emergency repairs needed to the city sewer system. 

Public Works Director McCollum said that they have a two-year time table to receive a 30 percent reimbursement form the county.

•    Passed a budget amendment moving $5,000 from Parks and Recreation meeting fees to Keep Ridgeland Beautiful.