Hefty pay raises for city department heads are still up in the air as the Philadelphia Mayor and Board of Aldermen eye a $7.9 million 2015 budget.

After the tax rate was doubled last year to cover revenue shortfalls, the proposed budget drops the city's millage rate from 20 to 18.

The budget also decreases the city's share of the Philadelphia Schools' budget by .6 mills for debt service.

City Clerk James Johnson initially told aldermen that the school millage could be decreased by 1.6 but after receiving its budget request last week, the rate was reduced to .6 mills.

"They had a shortfall in what we collected for them for debt service," Johnson told aldermen.

The proposed city budget, which is expected to be approved by aldermen on Sept. 2, includes funds for 20-percent salary increases for city department heads and 2-percent cost-of-living raises for all other city employees.

The police chief would be excluded from the pay hike as he was hired in December, aldermen said.

Ward 1 Alderman Josh Gamblin was the first to propose the salary "adjustments" for heads of city departments weeks ago, saying they were low when compared to others in cities similar in size and population to Philadelphia.

While Ward 3 Alderman James Tatum, Ward 4 Aldermen Cecil Nichols and Mayor James A. Young voiced support for the 20 percent increase, Ward 2 Alderman Jim Fulton and Alderman-at-Large Willie Jackson favored a lower amount.

Fulton presented the Mayor and Aldermen with a survey compiled by the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University which compared salaries of city officials across the state.

"This gives us something to look at," Fulton said. "It looks at cities like Carthage, Kosciusko, Louisville, New Albany, etc., with the same employees. Y'all look at it."

Fire Chief Pierce Clark responded in regards to the survey, noting that some of the fire departments in those cities "have less than 10 people and we have 32."

Clark told aldermen that his department handles more than 1,000 emergency responses a year, more than most cities of similar size.

Nichols also voiced support for higher raises for the assistant fire chief and the assistant police chief.

"Since we are fixing pay scales for department heads, we are leaving out two people," he said. "We are leaving out the assistant fire chief and the assistant police chief. We need to make arrangements to fix their salaries, too, if it slipped us. If the other department heads' salaries are not right their's are not right. We need to add them also. There is enough money in the budget."

Nichols recommendation did not receive a response from the other aldermen.

Mayor Young told the board that the salary issues did not have to be finalized before the FY 2015 budget was approved. He noted that money was in each department's budget to fund the raises when and if the board decides.

To generate additional revenue for the proposed $7.9 million general fund budget, the board plans to shift about $650,000 from reserves to pay off a loan on the park and infrastructure for Lowe's.

The projected $483,000 in sales tax revenue currently being diverted to a Tax Increment Financing fund to pay the loan on the park and Lowe's will instead go to the general fund.

Gamblin said the $650,000 would be set aside to pay off the TIF loan over the next six years and to satisfy the city's requirement with the state.

City officials had hoped to pay off the TIF loan this year but that would require the county to fulfill its share of the cost which is just over $300,000.

The TIF loan was secured for park improvements and for infrastructure to bring the Lowe's development.

In other action, aldermen:

• Authorized the court clerk to attend the state court clerks seminar in Jackson on Sept. 19-12 with all expenses are paid by the Mississippi Judicial College.

• Amended the the 2013/2014 budget to reflect end of the year transfers.

• Paid $1,600 to the Community Development Partnership as an annual contribution to the WIN Job Center so it will remain open in Philadelphia.

• Approved a $12,561.02 claim from Crowder Engineering for professional services on the Pecan Avenue paving project.

• Discussed closing Range Avenue from Myrtle Street to Oak Street during school hours but took no action.

• Increased police officer Brad Crockett's pay to $12.25 an hour after he graduated from the state law enforcement training academy.

• Approved closing a vacated portion of Dorothy Street from Peebles Avenue to Poplar Avenue.

Alderman Josh Gamblin excused himself from the meeting, as the street in question joins his property.

The motion was unanimously approved by the remaining aldermen.

• Authorized a one-time payment of $2,900 in September to the Philadelphia Airport to pay for a one time fee for personnel.

• Authorized Rusty Holley to attend a state Department of Transportation Sign Installation and Maintenance Workshop in Batesville on Aug. 26 and pay a registration fee of $35.

• Set a hearing for Sept. 16 to rezone property at 10121 Highway 16 east from Residential-1 to Commercial-2 at the request of Nathan Lamar Sistrunk.

• Approved a request for members of the Class of 1964 at Booker T. Washington High School to pursue a historic landmark sign to be erected at the gym.

•Accepted the resignation of police officer Melissa Miles effective Aug. 15 as she plans to pursue nursing school.