By Alyssa Schnugg
With a projected loss of more than $3 million in sales tax this fiscal year due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Oxford Board of Aldermen this morning approved several cost-saving measures that included furloughing 135 city employees and suspending curbside recycling.
The city will also not be opening the city pool this summer.
Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill announced the decisions during a special called meeting today. After the regular agenda items, the board met for two and a half hours in executive session.
Her voice cracking with emotion, Tannehill said the board had to make “gut-wrenching decisions.”
“Probably the most difficult decisions we’d ever had to make,” she said.
Tannehill said sale taxes make up about a third of the city’s general operating budget. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30. She said sales taxes are expected to be down $2.2 million by the end of the fiscal year, with another $1 million loss from other revenue sources like building permits, events at mTrade Park and court fines.
“We’re looking at $3.2 million loss in general operation budget,” she said. “And if things continue, we project a decline of $6.7 million for the next fiscal year.”
Tannehill said by furloughing the employees now, it provides the best chance of being able to have most employees back to work in the fall.
During the furloughing, employees will not be paid; however, they will maintain their health insurance and life insurance benefits. They will still accrue vacation and sick days; however, employees cannot cash in vacation days during the furloughing period since they are not being fired or laid off permanently.
“This is such a difficult decision,” Tannehill said. “We look forward to the day we can bring them all back.”
The city currently employees 395 people. The decision will furlough about 34 percent of the city’s staff.
When the COVID-19 virus made its way into Mississippi, Oxford officials took some early steps to cut costs including canceling any travel for employees, putting in a hiring freeze, halting new projects and putting purchasing equipment on hold.
The board also approved suspending curbside recycling for an unknown amount of time.
“We very much value our recycling program,” Tannehill said. “However, it’s become very expensive. The ability to sell it the last two years has become more difficult. We’ve been spending $500,000 a year to subsidize recycling.”
Effective May 1, curbside recycling will cease. Residents can drop off their recyclables at two locations – the city shop off Molly Barr Road and the landfill off Highway 7.
“After May 1, don’t put out your recycling bins,” Tannehill said. “But please hang on to your bins. We do hope this is just a suspension.”
The board also voted to keep the city pool closed this summer.
“We hate to invest the money when we don’t know when folks will be able to gather again,” Tannehill said.
Earlier in the meeting, the board approved the city’s furlough policy that can be viewed online here.