Thursday, September 17, 2009
Public speaks out about high taxes
By SUE WATSON
They represent a cross section of the business district - bankers, realtors, builders, store owners, homeowners, educators.
Respectfully, those who chose to speak at the Marshall County Board of Supervisors felt government should tighten its belt rather than increase taxes. Some felt the school district’s request for an increase of 3.5 percent of last year’s budget is justified based on the need to educate youth.
The public hearing Monday drew a full boardroom with some standing.
Chancery clerk Chuck Thomas prefaced the hearing for comment on the Fiscal Year 2009-10 budget, saying the increase of 3.68 mills which would generate $577,599 for the county school district was approved by the board of supervisors according to state law. The board of supervisors’ budget in the next year will not increase and stay at last year’s dollar figure of $18.905 million, he said.
First up was Richard Jordan, cattleman and forester, who said he felt the budget announcement run in the newspaper last week was misleading.
“There’s no law to say Marshall County Board of Supervisors are mandated on millage to generate this amount,” he said.
Board attorney Kent Smith corrected Jordan, saying as long as the budget increase requested by the school district does not exceed 4 percent of the previous year's budget, the board of supervisors, by law, has to approve the increase.
“So, you are telling me there is no reason for me to be here?” Jordan asked.
“No, this board has to give the school board their money, as long as it is not over 4 percent of last year’s request,” said Smith.
Jordan continued, “By nature of government, it has an insatiable appetite to want more money.”
Last year Jordan paid about $125 more in taxes, bringing his total tax to the county to about $6,000, and he lives on a gravel road, he said. He believes taxes are higher in Marshall County than most other counties and that current tax rates on most folks (local, state, federal, sales, fees, etc.) run about 52 percent of income for most Americans.
“I believe our tax growth should come from economic growth, not in raising the tax rate from free enterprise,” he said.
Jordan also called out data, saying public school teachers are getting 20-30 percent more in salary and benefits than private school teachers, public school facilities are better than at private schools, but that the graduation rate of 50 percent in public schools is unacceptable.
“Something appears to be amiss,” he said. “We need to look at how we can readjust instead of just taking (tax increases) for granted.”
Second up was commercial/residential builder Roy Ray, who agreed with Jordan that the county should be striving to increase the tax base rather than raising taxes on the private sector.
Some 100 new homes he has built in Marshall County have contributed close to $2,000 a year each to increase the tax base, he said.
“When you raise the (tax) rate, you make it more difficult for people like me to raise the tax base,” he said. “You need to keep the rate down and the tax base up. I feel like I am fighting an uphill battle to get the help I need to build the tax base.”
Retired educator Joseph Ford was in favor of increased funding for the school district.
“One reason we have the situation we have is because we don’t prepare ahead of time for the future,” he said. “We don’t need to short-change them (the youth). I don’t mind paying taxes for school children who are coming in behind us.”
Walter Rogers Jr., who lives on countyline road (Tate/Marshall Road), said he does not mind paying a little more taxes for the children if “we are getting our money’s worth.” He also asked that his road be paved. (The county is paving the road beginning this week.)
Dick Sanders of Slayden, a developer, asked if the board of supervisors had thought of reducing their budget by the amount the school district’s budget was increasing.
“I don’t have a problem paying for it if we are getting our money’s worth,” he said. “Facts are facts. I would like to see the graduation rate in the county improved. Is there consideration of cutting the 3.2 percent on the general side (county’s budget)?”
“It was discussed and is not too late to change,” Chuck Thomas said.
Creed Walker of Waterford, retired businessman and veteran of the Korean Conflict, spoke on behalf of American veterans returning from war with post traumatic stress, a condition the military only in recent years has recognized.
“We pay taxes, serve our country, but when we get back here we are pushed into a corner,” he said. “What’s going on? We (veterans) can’t get anything done. I’ve paid my dues and my taxes but there are so many more out there who need help and can’t get it. It took me 45 years to get what I deserved. I was denied and kept appealing. I could write a book on post-traumatic stress. I got help and there are so many more out there who need help.”
Joe Lundine, who lives in Supervisor District 2, said he had not come with the intention to speak, nevertheless, he was moved to.
Last year’s countywide reassessment increased his taxes considerably, then during the last one and a half years, everything else has gone up except his salary, he said. His wife got a small increase in salary, not enough to keep pace with the cost of living.
He said government is raising taxes faster than the people are getting cost-of-living increases from federal and other means.
“We have had to adjust our budget more than you (government) have,” he said. “Why can’t you, as a group, get together and figure out what you can give up? I think it’s your duty as a board to see where you can cut costs just like we’ve had to do in our home.”
Board watcher Wayne Jones said his main concern is that all citizens pay their share of taxes.
Josephine Stevenson, another resident of countyline road, wanted to know where the county is spending money and said no work was being done on her road. (Supervisors are working to pave Tate/Marshall Road this week.)
“What are you doing with my money?” she asked.
Bob Woods, of Supervisor District 5, agreed with others that schools should get the support they want and that taxation should be fair.
He said after reappraisal last year, his tax increased 18.3 percent.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett agreed paying taxes is no fun, but defended the board by saying the mill rate was reduced by 10 mills last year to help offset some of the increase in taxation due to increased property valuation ordered by the state.
“That hit in the worst time in the world,” he said. “I haven’t had a person thank me at all for cutting that 10 mills, but when we added the school district’s taxes (approved the increase) everybody jumped right straddle of us. We hoped people would not be upset about having to add 3.5 mills for Mr. Randolph’s schools.”
Woods said he pays more on a per-acre basis for row crop acreage in Marshall County than his acreage in DeSoto and Tate counties.
He calculated his taxes increased 21.4 percent between 2003-08.
Coulter Teel, who sells real estate, said his business has taken a hit in recent years and that prospective buyers back out when they see what their taxes are going to be.
“When you write that real estate tax down people want to see what they are paying for,” he said. “Our taxes are more but we don’t have anything - a bowling alley or movie. We’re kind of stuck in the Mayberry Era.”
Teel said, as a young family man, it is hard to get a start and make it.
“It’s hard as it can be to sell a house in Marshall County because people want to be close to the fun,” he said. “When people ask me where are you going to go bowling, I have to tell them you have to go to DeSoto County.”
Teel said he was not complaining, just expressing a point of view.
“Some people are doing better than others,” he said.
Bennett said there are more school children in DeSoto County than the total population in Marshall County. He attributed DeSoto County’s growth to people moving out of Memphis.
“Until DeSoto County gets full, Tate and Marshall and Lafayette County are not going to grow,” he said.
“People are leaving here,” said Teele. “We can’t get businesses to stay here.”
Bennett said the county has to provide services in order to grow.
“I hate to pay taxes, but there are things we need,” he said.
Karen Land, who lives off the Tate/Marshall Road, asked for paving of her road.
“I have lived here 22 years and they have spent enough money to pave it,” she said. “Is it because it’s Tate/Marshall? Maybe Tate could help.”
(The Tate/Marshall Road is to be paved through mutual agreement starting this week.)
Banker Steve Gresham said bankers’ insurance (FDIC) and tax bills have skyrocketed and the Bank of Holly Springs has had to cut costs.
He questioned where county government has made a similar effort.
“We are part of three banks in town and are trying to keep jobs in the county,” he said.
He said his bank is paying “staggering taxes” on a vacant manufacturing building.
“It makes it tough to bring anybody in when they’ve got that kind of tax bill right off the bat,” he said.
Barry Thomas, local businessman, thanked supervisors for doing a good job.
“But the bottom line, as a business you have to make it work,” he said. “I wish you would look very hard. I am struggling with the tax bill. I wish it was not the case. I am encouraging you to carefully consider not raising these taxes.”
Joseph Maurey, a local manufacturer, expressed appreciation for a tax exemption he had enjoyed but said his industry is down 32 percent and he has not been able to raise salaries and has made cutbacks to keep people working.
“It’s kind of tough in this environment,” he said. “We enjoy Holly Springs, Mississippi, and I think Holly Springs has a lot to offer.”
Businessman Shane Strickland said taxes have gotten too high.
“I can’t sell enough gas and potato chips to make $60,000 a year to pay taxes,” he said. “I can’t work any harder than I am working. It’s paying debt, paying taxes and paying insurance. We can’t pay any more.”
Tax collector Betty Byrd said Strickland’s taxes would not go up on businesses in the city limits of Holly Springs, which is in the city school district.
Gary Barnett, owner of Bi-County Farm Supply, said people are sending their children to school in DeSoto County because of the school system in Marshall.
“Somebody is not doing their job,” he said. “The school really bugs me. If we are getting what we are paying for, I wouldn’t mind. Is this mandatory?”
“No, sir,” said Bennett. “The school could bring it (taxes) down next year. The school has a long way they can go before they cap out. Marshall County Schools have done well over the years to keep it (taxes) low. It could go to 55 mills and we would have to give more money.”
Barnett asked when will the increasing taxes stop. He said the schools and high taxes are the number one and number two reasons people give for not coming to the county.
“I haven’t sold a piece of property in over a year,” he said.
Jakie Hurdle, of District 5 and who serves on numerous boards, cited two bases for argument that he believes are not true.
The first premise that government needs to raise taxes to cover expenses is false, he said.
“Government can cut expenses to lower taxes,” he said.
The second premise that money provides an education is false, he said.
“It is not necessary to think we have to raise taxes to buy an education,” he said. “The graduation rate proves you can’t buy an education.”
Board watcher George Khars, questioned whether the increase the school district asked for was already in the pipeline.
He said his retirement fund and Social Security will not get a cost of living raise for the next two years.
Marshall County School Superintendent Donald Randolph spoke last, saying he would not defend himself.
Funds for schools come from county, state and federal sources, he said.
He said state agencies were required last year to cut budgets by 5 percent to balance the state budget, costing the school district $680,000. Governor Haley Barbour said school districts would recover between 40 to 60 percent of those monies when stimulus dollars came in.
“Not one penny of stimulus has come in,” he said.
A shortfall in ad valorem revenues put the district back another $230,000, he said bringing the total dollars lost last year to close to a million.
“The governor, if he committed 40-60 percent, he didn’t get it to us,” Randolph said. “At the end of the school year, he said, you boys made it on what you have.
“Last Thursday he (Barbour) cuts us 5 percent ($709,247). That’s $2 million over two consecutive years. If they don’t give it to you in state funds, all of you are intelligent enough to know where that money will come from.”
Randolph said most of the district’s budget goes to pay for electricity, buy diesel fuel and pay teachers’ salaries.
He said the school district has not asked for any extra money until this year.
The school district requested and the board of supervisors approved an increase of $577,599 for the 2009-10 fiscal year - $166,672 for allowable 4 percent increase to be collected through ad valorem, $228,000 as mandated for new programs, and $100,861 for new property ad valorem.
“I have worked extremely hard and our people have worked hard,” he said to raise academic performance.
He said ACT scores for the school district averaged better than did those of Marshall Academy.
Randolph predicted Barbour will not return the dollars he cut from state agencies’ budgets or the $2 million lost in two years, and that Barbour would cut state agencies again before June 2010.
At the conclusion of the board of supervisors’ meeting the board adopted the new fiscal year budget and set the millage rate at 112.63.
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