Supervisors: Choice is higher taxes or less road work|[08/01/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 1, 2008

Facing $1 million more than expected in this year’s road fund expenses, the Warren County Board of Supervisors must either cut road services, raise taxes or a combination of both, County Administrator John Smith told supervisors during a budget hearing Thursday.

“This isn’t anything that just happened overnight. We have been depleting our cash reserves for the last five years by offering more services in the county with the same amount of funds coming in,” said District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale.

Rising supplies costs and gas prices, coupled with expanded county services, drained the road cash reserve from $2 million in 2004-05 to $600,000 entering this fiscal year. Meanwhile, road fund revenue is expected to be even or slightly down from last year.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Supervisors are in the process of Predicting spending levels for the new fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. After reviewing budget needs, they draft a plan for total spending and impose a tax levy on real estate and personal property to raise the total. The Vicksburg Warren School district has already submitted its funding request-which recites that no tax increase is expected for school-and supervisors will impose that levy with the county’s. Vicksburg officials are also in budget preparations and their funding will be included for municipal taxpayers in total bills mailed in December.

The road department cost $803,000 more than expected last fiscal year and exceeded its budget by a $767,000 loss the year before. In 2004-05, the department exceeded the Supervisors: Choice is higher taxes or less road work spending plan by $413,000. When any category of spending is larger than the spending plan, the money must be transferred from other accounts.

Rising gas prices are in large part to blame for the road department’s financial woes this year. Road Manager Richard Winans said the department is on pace to spend $413,000 on fuel this fiscal year, up from about $260,000 in 2006-2007. He has requested $409,000 for fuel for fiscal year 2008-09, which includes fuel for the department’s fleet of vehicles and Kings Point Ferry.

In addition to constructing and maintaining roads and bridges, the road fund also supports services such as mosquito control, litter pickup and animal control. Most of the county’s share of revenuebased taxes on casinos has been used as capital for road projects in the past, not for maintenance purposes.

“The only way to reduce our fuel consumption is to reduce the services we provide,” said Winans.

Lauderdale said it could not be a worse time to raise taxes in light of the sagging private economy, but added cutting services from the road department may not be a viable option.

“I don’t think people want their roads in any worse shape than they’re already in. It’s going to be difficult either way,” he said. “We could struggle through this year and pray the economy picks up, but I don’t see how we can avoid raising taxes in the next few years.”

A rise in the millage rate of 1 mill would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $10 per year in taxes. Smith presented the supervisors Thursday with options ranging from raising the millage from 1 to 3 mills.

“The best scenario is a combination of cutting some expenses and raising the property taxes some,” Smith said.

The last time the millage rate was raised for the road department was for fiscal year 2005-06. The rate was raised by 0.61 mills to the current 5.4 mills paid by county residents. The total county millage rate is 22.75.

The county budget estimates $1,812,326 in road fund taxes would be collected from county and city residents in the upcoming year at the current millage rate, with the county receiving $1,033,863 and $778,463 paid to the City of Vicksburg for in-city work. The local taxes are supplemented by state funds for many projects.

Supervisors held their first budget discussion Tuesday, the second Thursday and will conclude today. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Sept. 2 at 9 a.m., with the supervisors to adopt a budget and set tax rates immediately afterward.