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Infrastructure repairs cause strain on Greenville budget

Leaders of a Mississippi city are trying to cut costs to improve a budget that has been hit hard by water and sewer system repairs.

Greenville Mayor Errick D. Simmons told the Delta Democrat-Times that any city employee who wants to make a purchase must get approval from him. He said emergency items will be approved, but elected officials are trying to send the message that the city “can do more with less.”

Greenville has faced major issues with the sewer system this year. Some manholes have collapsed, and crews have had to repair broken water lines, pipes and manhole covers.

Since 2015, Greenville has spent roughly $3.8 million on sewer repairs. All of that was paid with cash.

Shortly after the current budget year started Oct. 1, City Council members realized the steep financial situation they would be facing. In January, the council set a 2.5 percent budget cut for all departments and put restrictions on purchase orders.

“We are putting things in place where we are trying to reduce our expenditure side of our budget or balance sheet to be more fiscally responsible to our taxpayers,” Simmons said in a recent interview.

With just over four months until the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, the city has hundreds of unpaid purchase orders to local merchants.

Steve Osso is the city’s external financial consultant. He said although Greenville’s finances are not where he would like them, the present circumstances must be held in context.

In March, the city had about $3.7 million cash on-hand, which was down about $3.8 million year-to-date.

By May, the city had about $5.2 million cash on-hand, bringing the year-to-date cash balance difference to about $2.6 million.

When Osso became the financial consultant for the city 10 years ago, he said the finances were not great. However, they began to steadily turn around until 2013, when the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the city to improve its water and sewer system.

The city is 18 months ahead of schedule on sewer work in some areas, but getting to that point required spending vast amounts from the cash balance for sewer evaluation studies, Osso said.

Greenville’s sewer infrastructure issues aren’t going to be solved soon.

“Where there is challenge, there is opportunity and the greatest opportunity that I see, as the mayor of this city, is that our children and grandchildren will have a better infrastructure, have a better sanitary sewer and collection system,” Simmons said. “It’s going to cost but at least we can attract the necessary industry to improve the quality of life.”

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