Taxes going up across Warren County

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 5, 2001

[9/05/2001]In a split vote Monday, Warren County supervisors voted 3-2 to approve a $33.6 million budget and increase the rate used to calculate property taxes.

Separately, the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to approve a $29.4 million spending plan, about $4.7 million less than the amount proposed two weeks ago. Property tax rates used for city residents and the special assessment for the downtown Main Street program were approved at the same percentage as last year.

Vicksburg Warren school officials had already forwarded a budget resolution requiring what will be a 5.5 percent increase in the millage rate for schools. The increase will help fund the district’s $62 million budget approved earlier this year.

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Together, the rates mean the owner of a home in the county outside Vicksburg assessed at $80,000 will owe $407.60 after homestead exemptions when tax bills are sent out in December. That will be an increase of $27.44 over this year’s taxes.

Taxes on that same home in the city limits will be $694.64 when the unchanged city levy is added.

The rates are also used to calculate car tag costs, meaning those assessments will rise starting Oct. 1.

The $33.6 million county spending plan was passed within minutes of its being presented to the public for the first time. There was no comment from the three supervisors who voted for it. The budget represents an increase of $5.6 million from the 2000-2001 budget.

District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, whose district is the only of the county’s five entirely within municipal limits, called the budget a “back room deal” and asked the board to take it under advisement. When that motion failed 3-2, Selmon and District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield voted against the spending plan and tax increase.

“I think we need to look at gaming revenues rather than raising taxes,” Selmon said.

The only public comment at the hearing was from Vicksburg resident David Gibson who asked how departmental budgets for the new year will compare. County Administrator Rick Polk indicated those numbers would be available after the meeting.

After the meeting, Richard George, president of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, said the tax increase was needed to fund four additional officers for the Warren County Sheriff’s Department and to give deputies a $2,000-a-year raise. He said the county was reacting to repeated recommendations from grand jury reports to increase the officers’ pay.

“We decided it was time to accommodate those recommendations and the requests from the sheriff,” George said.

The Sheriff’s Department budget will go from $1.7 this year to $2 million, an increase of $292,350.

Revenue in the county’s budget totals $20 million, with $11.4 million generated through property taxes. George said the county expects an increase of about $595,140 from the 1 mill addition to the tax rate and increases in assessed property values.

The budget indicates that the county will have $13.5 million left from the current year’s spending plan from projects budgeted last year, but not yet spent. Those funds will be added with other revenue to make up total expenses of $33.6 million.

Selmon said that he and Mayfield had been largely left out of the budget process and were not informed about some aspects of the spending plan including additional raises above the 4 percent given to select county employees. George said that “about four or five” employees in the road department were given separate raises because of added duties.

He did not specify which employees or how much those raises would be.

While county supervisors disagreed about the new fiscal year’s budget, city officials voted unanimously on a budget for the first time in four years. During the previous administration, all four budgets were approved in 2-1 votes when former South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb voted against every one, most often because of increases in personnel costs.

As approved, the budget indicates the city will spend $25.9 million for general government expenses and $3.5 million for capital improvements. The plan is about $700,000 less than last year’s $30.1 million budget after amendments made in June by the previous administration.

“Hopefully as we continue to reduce the size of government we will be able to reduce the tax rates,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens of this administration’s first budget.

The new spending plan reduces personnel cost from $16.3 million in this year’s budget by about $1.6 million. The largest part of that comes from a $1.4 million reduction in personnel costs for the police department.

Leyens said the total budget was reduced after $6.6 million of unfunded capital improvement items were pulled out. He said the city still intends to move forward with those projects, but will amend the budget when funding is identified.

“We’re keeping those in a separate fund sort of like a wish list,” Leyens said.

He said that funding for those capital improvements, which include the waterfront development, will come from bonds, loans or grants.

North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young voted in favor of the budge, but said she had some reservations about the $24,000 allocated to contract the City Auditorium out under Compass Management Inc.,and the $415,000 for an Auto Vehicle Locator system for the police department.

The AVL features devices that beam the precise locations of police cars to global positioning satellites. Leyens has said it will make the department more accountable.