Thursday, January 28, 2010
Supervisors fret over budget outlook
By SUE WATSON
Uncertain financial times has the Marshall County Board of Supervisors on pins and needles regarding how to plan to fund services in the future without raising property taxes.
The matter was brought home again following a visit with the board of supervisors by residents of Garden Lake Subdivision. Margaret Holmes was spokesperson and asked when the subdivision roads would be paved. Garden Lake Subdivision is in District 4, which has quite a long list of unpaved roads on the county’s four-year plan for paving.
Holmes said she contacted the board and her supervisor in 2006 asking when David Cove would be paved and was told it would be a couple of years. She followed up the following two years and her supervisor could not tell her when David Cove would be paved, she said.
“I pay the same mill rate but don’t seem to have the amenities other districts have,” she said.
Supervisor George Zinn said the county is under weather factors and then in recent years budgets have not covered the amount of road paving that had been available.
Holmes added that Catfish Cove and Marshall Cove in Gordon Lake Subdivision are also unpaved and she wants them on the list.
“We are requesting the county road manager give attention and put these three on the list to get paved,” she said, “because we are tired of a dirt road.”
Holmes said she has had family on the road since the 1970s.
Supervisors returned their attention to budget woes with Larry Hall, county administrator, reporting the Mississippi Association of Supervisors (MAS) is opposing Senate Bill 2495 that would give the governor power to make additional cuts to the state agency budgets of up to 10 percent.
The cuts in the budget could throw certain amenities like Homestead Exemption relief, car tags, educational programs, and the Welfare Departments and the like back on counties for finding monies to cover these cutbacks, he said.
Although the Senate passed the bill, Sen. Bill Stone opposed the bill, he said.
Hall said MAS is pushing for House support to defeat the bill.
“The game plan for this year is to protect what we are getting (from the state agencies),” Hall said. “It is going to be passed down, and that's why it is important to oppose the bill. The supervisors' association is lobbying wide open against it.”
Supervisor Eddie Dixon assured that the cuts made by the governor will fall back on the county boards of supervisors to come up with the funds.
“We are talking about this immediate budget this year,” Hall said. “What is happening on the state level is happening on the local level, too (tax collection shortfalls).”
Supervisor Keith Taylor recommended a resolution be drafted in opposition to SB 2495 and given to the local delegation.
Taylor then opened a sore subject with supervisors, the requirement that supervisors approve the county school district’s budget without having a say in drafting the budget and without power to not pass the school district’s budget request.
He cited the intention of the board of education to finance a $3 million bond bill for construction without providing what he considered adequate publicity regarding the project which would add millage for 14 years to the school district’s annual budget.
“The school board is asking for it and we don’t have anything to do with it,” Taylor said. “They can request and get the mill rate raised and the supervisors and the people do not know what the raise in millage is being spent for. We have no clue where the money’s going to be spent. I think they (the school board) should say how it will be spent.”
Board attorney Kent Smith agreed the board of supervisors and the public should be advised clearly of the school district’s intention to obligate itself for debt. He said the notification should be large enough to attract the public’s attention in the newspaper using bold print fonts or large type and putting the notice inside a box that would draw the public’s attention.
“Those guys are going to come in here asking to raise taxes,” Smith said.
Taylor said as a supervisor, the only way he would vote to raise the mill rate for the county school district is if it is mandated by state law he do so.
“I still think the school superintendent and board need to get with us and answer questions and notify the public why taxes will be raised,” he said. “If we have no say, I don’t like voting for something that I don’t know where the money is coming from.”
Zinn said he thinks the bond money would be spent for construction and renovation.
“We have been tightening our belts and we are the ones who are going to get kicked (blamed for the school district mill increase),” Taylor said. “We need to educate the public that the school board has the authority to say where the money will be spent.”
“I think we need to,” said supervisor Willie Flemon. “They (the citizens) are going to be looking down our throats.”
“I want a public notice in the paper to let the people know this board’s hands are tied,” said Taylor.
Smith said the school board can “whittle away each year” by raising the mill rate the allowable amount until the district reaches the capped limit of 55 mills.
“If you look at services, law enforcement, garbage service - we have kept our standard and worked within our budget,” said Taylor. “Next year fuel and the cost of doing business will probably be higher.”
With that, Zinn read aloud a long list of gravel roads in his district that are on the county’s four-year road plan for paving.
Taylor added that the county was paving about 10 miles of county road per district per year until recent years when fuel costs severely curtailed the amount of roads the county could pave each year.
“It’s down to a little dribble, what we can pave,” Hall said. “Some loggers on Wilson Golden Road damaged roads last week.”
He said money gets tighter, needs increase all the while, then road damages cost the county heavily in maintenance costs.
On a more positive note, Hall said the upcoming Norfolk Southern Memphis Intermodal Yard can be a bigger economic boost for Marshall County and Mississippi than the Toyota plant. The state and county engineer and others are working to solve a problem of ingress and egress to the Intermodal Yard in Rossville, Tenn., with possibility to get the intersection at Highway 72 ready in time for opening of the yard in 2012, he said.
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