County’s giving to charities could outpace other years|[08/23/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 23, 2007

2008 contributionscould be $593,500

Continued donations of tax money to charities will be among the points of contention as Warren County supervisors finalize the county’s spending plan.

Specific requests from 18 charitable organizations total $593,500, which easily outpaces any single-year total for subsidies of charity from county coffers. Last year’s donations reached $544,500.

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It remains illegal, except by special legislation, for supervisors to provide tax funds to charitable causes. In recent years, however, the Warren County board has been seeking and obtaining local and private bills granting the authority they need. In turn, each year there are more requests.

Supervisors will meet Sept. 4 to set an operating budget for 2007-08, expected to exceed $14 million.

Also, organizations receiving support from the county for years will be funded from the general fund instead of using tax revenue from Vicksburg’s four casinos, a change from prior practices, County Administrator John Smith said Wednesday.

&#8220It’s revenue from a tax-supportive structure,” Smith said.

Fitting that category will be contributions to the United Way of West Central Mississippi, Vicksburg Main Street, Mississippi National Guard and a portion of renewed funds for the parent group of the Warren County Children’s Shelter.

Many of the allocations, if approved, entail matching federal grant money secured to support basic operations or special programs.

Warren Washington Issaquena Sharkey Community Action Agency could realize a tripling of its allocation. In addition to the $7,500 the group has received from the county in the recent past, another $17,500 has been requested to defray costs not covered by federal grants.

The regional financial assistance agency uses grants from the U.S. Department of Energy to implement &#8220weatherization” projects to make the homes of seniors and low-income families more energy-efficient.

A $35,000 allocation previously marked for the closed Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Center in Greenville will stay in the budget, Smith said, with the intention of keeping the line item available if another center is established.

Closed in May 2005, the burn center was funded primarily through donations. During this year’s legislative session, state lawmakers authorized a new burn center at University Medical Center in Jackson, but did not fund it.

Other agencies requesting funding from Warren County this year are the Vicksburg Chapter of the American Red Cross, Community Council, Haven House, Keep Vicksburg Beautiful, Boys & Girls Club, The Initiative, Central Mississippi Prevention Services, Child Abuse Prevention Center, HIV Services Inc., We Care Community Services, Vicksburg Family Development Services, Mississippi Food Network, Triumph Ministries and Women’s Restoration Shelter.

While direct donations are illegal without specific annual legislative permission, boards may contract with nonprofits for services. For example, Warren County has hired the local humane society for several years to provide animal control. Otherwise, groups seeking public money usually ask boards to buy advertisements in their program books in a range of about $100 to $500 per ad.

City hearing set for tonight

Residents have their chance to speak tonight on a $29 million City of Vicksburg spending plan at a public hearing at 7.

The public hearing on the budget, which will go into effect Oct. 1, will be in City Hall Annex.

Officials were at work Wednesday trimming $1 million from line-item requests in order to meet their goals of a $400,000 increase in total spending. Revenues are expected to be $29.5 million, up from this year due to higher property values and more properties to tax. Tax rates are expected to remain level.

Strategic Planner Paul Rogers said allocations shown on the draft document would total slightly less than expected revenues to leave money for merit-based pay raises through the year.

Rogers and Alderman Sid Beauman were whittling away at budget items Wednesday afternoon, and said they will be finished today in time for the hearing.

&#8220Intial requests came in at $3 million over expected revenues,” Beauman said. &#8220We cut that back to $1 million with the first budget round, and now we’re going through it again.”

A final version of the budget is expected to be approved Sept. 4.