No county tax hike expected, George says

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 9, 2002

[08/09/02]It is unlikely supervisors will raise tax rates for county operations when levies are set in September, Warren County board president Richard George said Thursday.

In wide-ranging comments to the Vicksburg Rotary Club, George, who represents District 5, said the county is in the process of determining how much money it will need to operate during the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

“For county governmental operations we anticipate no tax increase,” George said. “We do know, however, the educational system is going to require an increase.”

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Supervisors must calculate and impose a local tax rate sufficient to generate $1.2 million more for the local component of the Vicksburg Warren School District’s spending plan. The VWSD budget, effective July 1, calls for about $20 million of its $63.3 million spending plan to be raised locally.

County operating income, George said, will rise even without a tax increase due to higher property valuations and new developments.

“Our operation, with the growth we’ve had in our rolls, while it will not meet many of our departments’ budget requests, we will continue to be able to provide services at a reasonable level at the same rate for county operations,” he said.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Department is one of the agencies required to present a proposed budget publicly. Sheriff Martin Pace asked for what amounts to a 30 percent increase for departmental, jail and youth detention center operations.

George said revenue the county receives from local taxes on the four casinos in Vicksburg has allowed the county to undertake many projects without tax increases. In addition to property taxes, the county’s share of revenue-based taxes on the casinos averages $200,000 a month.

During the nine years casinos have operated, supervisors have reserved that income for capital improvements, to the facilities for the Warren County Sheriff’s Department, public facilities and roads.

“We keep those funds out of our daily operational expenses in order to be prepared for any unexpected downturn … in the gaming industry. In that event we would not have some massive project planned, money spent and no money to answer up with,” he said.

Among the projects being funded by gaming money are this year’s $1.4 million road resurfacing project; a $1.3 million project to put a new roof and a third floor on the Warren County Jail; a $300,000 geographic information system to be used by the tax assessor and a $200,000 project to provide a new home for the Warren County Justice Court.

George also said the county is using gaming money to help with repairs to the Old Court House Museum and to fund the local share for a study to provide access other than a ferry to Kings Point.

In response to a question, George said safety was an issue regarding opening the U.S. 80 bridge over the Mississippi River. Several years ago, in a non-binding referendum, Warren County voters said they wanted the bridge reopened to vehicular traffic in addition to its present use as a railroad bridge.

“Not one of you in this room, I do not believe, would want us, as a board, to move toward opening something that would not be safe for you or anyone and most especially if it’s not (safe) you get to pay for it if something goes wrong,” George said.

George said supervisors don’t intend to ignore voters, but he believes those same people would want the board to be cautious.