Thursday, September 9, 2010
County budget outlook tight
By SUE WATSON
Each year forward from now, the Marshall County Board of Supervisors is facing budget woes, board members say, because of the economy and falling county tax valuation and because state tax coffers are going to be spread thin in year 2012, if not before.
The shortfalls in state support of schools will be felt and borne on the shoulders of taxpayers in the county and City of Holly Springs. Money for services to the poor or unemployed may be tightened because federal one-time monies are not expected to be available to shore up the state’s budget.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett noted that forestry taxes have been cut, according to a story he read in the North Mississippi Daily Journal. That will mean school monies will be affected, he said.
Benton County Schools will especially be hurt since their economy is based heavily on the timber industry, Bennett said.
“It’s not just us,” he said. “Everyone’s business is down.”
Looking toward the Fiscal Year 2010-2011 budget which arrives October 1, supervisors said a fall in the county’s valuation will put the general county fund short by about $585,000. A millage increase would be required to bring that $585,000 back, but supervisors are rue to add more millage on the backs of taxpayers, they said.
Instead, they have agreed to a 3.3 percent across-the-board cut in department budgets, except where the county already has an existing agreement for services. This cut will not touch salaries, they said.
“We are cutting to keep services at what we have without raising taxes,” Bennett said. “We can’t afford to tax anymore. We have not cut salaries or jobs. We are trying to hang on to the jobs and salaries we have, because to cut them would just add to the chaos already in the economy.”
Supervisors anticipate the school district may ask for more money next year because of state cuts to education and more expected.
The school district can ask for up to 7 percent of its existing budget as a raise next year, supervisors said. The county school board agreed not to ask for more money for the new fiscal year because of the economy.
“It’s not just Marshall County, it’s countrywide,” Bennett said.
There will also be a $200,000 shortfall in the road and bridge fund (separate mill rate) taxed separately from the general county fund.
Supervisors said with fuel and materials for roads already tripled since prices hit the ceiling in 2007-2008, the number of miles the county will be able to pave is expected to be dropped from the eight-10 miles per district five years ago to two to three miles a district (10-15 miles total in the county) next year.
Whereas the cost to pave one mile was $22,000 to $23,000 a mile several years ago, the cost is $48,000 a mile today or more, supervisors said.
Supervisor George Zinn III expressed opposition to reducing the tax dollars generated for road and bridge because, he said, 99 percent of the paving done in the county is paid for by the county.
“We will not ignore the problem of paving roads, but will have to come up with something creative,” he said. “Most of this year’s budget has been to patch up damaged roads from last winter (freezes).”
Bennett estimated the road and bridge fund would be sufficient to pave from 10 to 20 percent of what the county has been paving a year.
“I know there are a lot of people out there who need their roads patched,” he said. “The county land mass is 702 square miles. Marshall County is a big county and it takes a lot to support; road and bridge will definitely be cut this time.”
Zinn said it would not make sense to let roads go back to where they came from - mud and dirt.
Supervisor Keith Taylor added, “People on paved roads do not know how good they have it. The county assessed valuation is down and the mill rate will be worth less. Petroleum products have raised costs. The days of the board of supervisors sponsoring things (clubs, special projects) are about over.”
Supervisor Willie Flemon added that logging equipment had torn up many of the county roads last winter and the county has had to spend money to repair those spots rather than put money to paving new stretches of road.
In other business, county supervisors:
• discussed the county offering in-kind participation on a grant application by Rust College for a study of MI College campus building repairs. Clencie Cotton with Rust College Community Development Corporation said the in-kind offer would help the college’s application. Supervisors had been reluctant to sign off on a $10,000 commitment to the project because of the gloomy economic forecast.
• considered sewer rate projections for the extension of sewer service to a mobile home park area near Cayce Road and Highway 72. Supervisors, especially Taylor, were worried that the rate for sewer treatment services to residences would climb too high for families and renters if the county has to borrow money to build the sewer and then pay it back. The deadline to submit a report to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality was at hand. Supervisors passed a motion to get tariffs in place and make changes when the funding sources for the sewer extension are in place.
• appointed supervisor Eddie Dixon to the Northeast Mississippi Planning and Development District to replace Dot Childress who resigned.
• approved a 2007 bridge inspection project and appointed county administrator Larry Hall to track inspections. Specific bridges will be inspected for scouring around pilings and headwalls after heavy downpours.
• upheld the tax assessor’s recommendations on an appeal for reduction of property valuations from a local industry.
“We cannot alter our assessment for one and not for all,” said Juanita Dillard, tax assessor. “A new index study will be used for the assessments in 2012.”
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