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To Clarify the “Raise” Word - Let’s Use “Increase in Compensation and Benefits” to Magnolia City Board Members: It’s still a Financial Impact to Magnolia’s Taxpayers

Terry Jackson

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During the December Magnolia City Board meeting, the mayor made a motion for the city to pay the monthly Blue Cross Health Insurance Premiums for the Aldermen and Alderwoman. This motion was an addendum item to the December agenda and was not discussed at the prior week’s “work session” where the public could have commented on it.

This increased insurance benefit for Magnolia’s city leaders will cost the city thousands of dollars annually on top of the previous approved budget. The mayor did ask us to clarify that there was no raise in the salary of the board members and that not all the board members will utilize this additional insurance benefit. This is true, and we want to clarify that, and we apologize if this was misunderstood in last week’s column. However, there was approved a definite increase in “compensation and benefits” for several board members which will cost the city thousands of dollars. And we don’t know the exact costs of this additional benefits because there was no discussion or research data done prior to the motion being presented. What we do know from a Blue Cross Renewal Summary for 2023 presented to the Board is that the monthly insurance premium cost for just “one” Alderman is projected to be $860/month ($10,320 annually). This would be the minimum cost of just one alderman. The costs of multiple aldermen have not been calculated. Additionally, these increased insurance costs, which are greater than $10,000 and possibly much more, were not discussed or included in the 2023 budget review presented in October 2022, just 3 months ago.

Mayor Tammy Witherspoon said that she and the Board are just following the model of Summit (pop. 1,505) and McComb (pop. 12, 413) in providing this city paid benefit to the Board. Magnolia’s population is 1,883 people according to the 2020 Census- a 23% decline from 2010. A review of over 106 other Mississippi cities of varying sizes (populations 208 to 175,000 and everywhere in between) showed that only 3 other cities (Columbus, Leland, and Monticello) provided health insurance to part-time employees. (This information is from the respected MSU Stennis Institute’s Mississippi Municipal Salary Survey 2021.)

City Aldermen and the Mayor are Part-time positions. It should be noted that McComb, Summit, and Magnolia did not complete a survey for the state-wide 2021 Municipal Salary Survey by the Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development and the Mississippi Municipal League.

In October 2017, when the previous mayor and board raised the mayor’s salary from $20,444 to $35,000 and increased aldermen pay from $652 to $754/month, Alderman Joe Cornacchione (who voted against the raise and the insurance addition) commented “We don’t give our part-time employees health insurance. We’re a part-time board. I don’t see why we’re entitled to health insurance. It’s crazy to waste that kind of money. I think people will be saying, if you can give yourself a raise, why can’t you fix my street?” (Enterprise Journal, October 17, 2017.)

The bottom line is that the Mayor and the Board approved an increase in the compensation and benefits for each City Board member which will be paid for by Magnolia’s tax-payers. As well, even though two other Pike County municipalities offer this, it is very uncommon for state municipalities to provide this expensive benefit for part-time employees. In looking at other county part-time elected officials, school board members who are also part-time are not provided this benefit anywhere in the state. Each Alderman’s monthly compensation package is increasing from approximately $1,300/month to almost $2,100/month. To make matters worse, there is no limit as to what and how much these medical insurance costs can increase year after year, and traditionally the costs of health insurance go up every year. Thus, this is a substantial increase in costs and burden to those residents paying city taxes, and the costs will likely increase each year. I highlight this last statement because a review of the Pike County Property Tax Rolls shows some of our Aldermen pay very little, none, or have delinquent tax liens on their property, thereby not incurring the full effect of their decision on all other taxpayers.

City Editor’s Note: My editor asked me to clarify precisely that the “salary” of the board did not increase, but that it was the “compensation and benefits” that increased. However, whether it’s a RAISE in Salary or a RAISE in Compensation and Benefits for Magnolia’s Aldermen/Alderwoman, the selfish action by the Magnolia’s City Leaders was an “unplanned for, non-public reviewed, and increased burden” on the taxpayers of Magnolia rom 2023 and every year there-after. Let’s just look at what tens of thousands of dollars annually could be used for (any of or a combination of):
- Concrete cost for repairing and replacing over 2 miles of the city’s broken and dangerous sidewalks
- Hiring 2 Public Works employees focused on cleaning up and repairing buildings in the city limits
- Fixing all the issues associated with our Public Library (remember the repairs to the city library was not in the 2023 budget because $30K was too much to spend on it)
- Fixing several of the potholes in our streets
- Transforming our Town Green into a beautiful, landscaped area for residents and visitors to socialize and bring more activity to downtown
- Addressing the streets and sidewalks in the north and south Magnolia neighborhoods - they need sidewalks and repair
- Adding additional landscaping equipment for the Public Works Department
- Establishing a program for after school High-School Youth Program to teach our youth trade and technical skills
- Establishing an incentive-bonus program for our city employees to increase morale and productively of the public works and police departments.

In the end, the selfish and short-sighted actions of lining our City Officials’ pockets with a “raise in compensation and benefits” impact all taxpaying citizens of Magnolia and robs our city of these other essential opportunities listed above.

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