Thursday, September 4, 2008
Board drops mill rate; budget stays flat
By SUE WATSON
The Marshall County Board of Supervisors voted Thursday to drop the millage rate from 118.95 mills in ad valorem taxes to 108.95.
They agreed it’s a measure to take pressure off taxpayers, who are facing an average of a 20 percent increase in the value of property due to the countywide reappraisal this year. The 10-point decrease in the mill rate, which had been steadily trending upward since 1995, is unprecedented for this board and some previous boards.
Tax assessor Juanita Dillard said the mill rate was set at 101.17 in 1995.
“It has been creeping up ever since,” she said.
A second measure the board took last week was to provide no cost-of-living raises for employees, which is about 3 percent this year. Supervisors said employees had been given cost-of-living raises for several years but due to the unpredictability in the economy, they could not justify increasing salaries when the private sector is struggling with increased costs of goods, services and fuel, as well.
In discussions preceding the board actions, chancery clerk Chuck Thomas and comptroller Susie Hill, who provided at least four budget plans for the board to choose from, said, “It’s good people even have a job this time of year.”
Thomas recommended the rollback in the mill rate by 10 millage points and that there be no salary increases in the Fiscal Year 2008-09, which begins October 1 this year and runs until September 30, 2009.
Supervisors, including Keith Taylor, were concerned that they have no revenue figure yet, due to about 0.65 percent (150 out of 23,000) of taxpayers appealing their property reappraisal values with the tax assessor’s office, according to Juanita Dilliard tax assessor. Those appeals have to be acted upon before the final revenue figure will be known.
Supervisor George Zinn III agreed that the appeal process was shortened due to the extension of time given to the tax assessor's office to complete the reappraisal process. But he added, “We cannot undo what the state has mandated (a six-year reappraisal with respect to Marshall County).”
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett expressed mixed feelings about no cost-of-living raises in the budget for employees this year.
“These are hard times and we have been generous to our employees over the years,” he said. “But, I think it’s time to be generous to the taxpayers. Lowering the mill rate will decrease their taxes. Some will get their taxes down and some will be up because of the reappraisal.”
“We are going to take 10 mills off?” asked Zinn.
“And all department budgets stay the same?” asked Taylor. “We would be proposing to operate at the same dollar amount as last year?”
Thomas cautioned that it was too early to be sure what the actual tax revenue would be.
Building permits at the Zoning and Planning department are about half what they were budgeted for this year, Thomas said. Instead of anticipating $200,000 in revenue from building permits, Thomas said he thinks the budget should estimate revenue at $110,000.
“We are right on the money in expenses and revenue in sanitation,” Thomas said.
Zinn cautioned that the board would not know where it stands if the residential garbage pickup contract is renegotiated.
County administrator Larry Hall reminded supervisors that the contract with R.E.S. includes a 3 percent consumer price index (CPI) adjustment this year, which the board should honor.
“It is in the contract and they are entitled to it,” he said, adding that service has improved since the board put the company on notice a month ago.
Supervisors discussed passing the CPI adjustment on to the residential customer.
“We are either squeezing the taxpayer in ad valorem taxes or our garbage customers,” Taylor said.
Changing subjects, Thomas said some chancery clerks reported at a meeting Thursday that their counties were considering freezing expenditures until October 1, except for emergency items, to make the current year’s budget last and have a little to roll over into the FY 2008-2009 budget.
“We could tighten our belts so we have a starting cash balance on October 1,” he said.
“No raises?” asked supervisor Willie Flemon.
“They got a raise last year,” Hall said. “Everybody who works for the county can see things are tougher now than last year. They know we’d be rocking and rolling (giving raises) if money wasn't tight.”
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett added, “People know we’ve had to slow down paving this year and last year because of increased fuel costs. We’re cutting this budget and pulling the millage down to help taxpayers.”
He said he has gotten lots of calls about taxpayer's property values going up so high.
“There will still be roads paved,” Taylor said. “But not like in the past. And we have not had to lay anyone off.”
With that, Taylor motioned to impose a spending freeze on all items except those that affect county operations (except for emergency needs) effective immediately until October 1. The motion passed unanimously.
“We will have to pave fewer miles if we keep the budget the same,” he added. “We had to approve an extension to get appraisals done and there was less time for property owners to appeal (property reappraisal values).”
Thomas then recommended the board authorize quarterly disbursements of operating funds next year for all departments. The road and bridge department and sheriff's department and the tax collector and tax assessor offices are departments that have been receiving disbursements quarterly.
He said disbursing operating money quarterly would assure that departments not spend their budgets heavily in the early quarters and run out of money before the end of the fiscal year.
“It would be a safety thing for those not already on statutory requirements to budget quarterly,” Thomas said.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in this economy,” said Hall. “It’s not over.”
Sheriff Kenny Dickerson repeated his concerns about lack of jail space for inmates and the need for adding new beds.
“You’ve got to put some serious thought into this jail,” he said. “Judges have no choice in child support cases and we have to keep them (those convicted of failing to pay child support) out there six months. And we have no choice but to pay medical bills for inmates.”
In an interview Friday, Dickerson said he appreciates the supervisors for what they have done to try to keep expenses down as much as possible. Yet the jail is inspected regularly to see if federal guidelines are met, including crowding situations.
“My concern is that we’ve been operating from 15 to 20 percent over capacity space-wise,” he said. “They (the federal inspectors) will give you some leeway, however, they won’t give you 10 years to comply. My concern is that we can spend money to add more space or we can spend money in defending lawsuits, and then after that be ordered to provide space.”
He added, “I understand times are hard and we take in mind the overall situation. This is probably the toughest decision the supervisors faced in years. They are trying to keep expenses down as much as they can and still have as good county operations as we can.”
Supervisor Eddie Dixon summarized the situation that supervisors find themselves facing from his personal perspective.
“Unfortunately, the state mandated the property reappraisal,” he said. “As supervisors we have no control over the appraised value of anyone’s property. As a supervisor, I am working as hard as I can to hold down taxes, especially for the elderly who cannot afford a tax rate increase.
“We also have so many people who are unemployed and who are living from paycheck to paycheck. A large tax increase would be devastating to them. The county can only lower the mill rate in any given year by 10 mills. That won't completely offset the tax increase, but it will go a long way in helping minimize it. I have a responsibility to protect those who elected me and all the citizens of Marshall County.”
Dillard said she is glad the board of supervisors were able to lower the mill rate since mandated reappraisal values were so high and a homestead exemption bill that would have increased exemptions for residents failed to pass in the Legislature this year.
That, combined with the fact that the economy is sluggish and the cost of living has been shooting up so high has put pressure on the taxpayer to make ends meet, she said.
News: (662) 252-4261 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions, comments, corrections: email@example.com
©2004, The South Reporter, All Rights Reserved.
No part of this site may be reproduced in any way without permission.
The South Reporter is a member of the Mississippi Press Association.
Site managed and maintained by
South Reporter webmasters Linda Jones, Kristian Jones
Web Site Design - The South Reporter
Back | Top of Page