Casino case to determine revenue for county

Published 12:01 pm Friday, July 30, 2010

How a tax protest case between Riverwalk Casino and Warren County is resolved will determine whether the county has slightly more or slightly less revenue in the coming year.

A first draft of the county’s 2010-11 budget shows total spending at almost the same level as this year — $15 million — with $45,436 more in property taxes, fees, fines and other revenue. That figure would dip by $61,242 if the latest numbers exchanged in the casino’s tax appeal favor Riverwalk, County Administrator John Smith told supervisors during budget talks Thursday.

Supervisors must have a new spending plan in place by Oct. 1 and must set a rate of property taxation to fund the budget for county operations and the Vicksburg Warren School District. Schools operate on a different budget year and trustees did not request a rate increase. Supervisors said they also will avoid increasing rates. Any additional income, such as the $45,436, would come from higher valuations placed on property by the tax assessor’s office. This year’s countywide assessment rolls increased about 1.9 percent.

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Riverwalk and Warren County found themselves more than $47 million apart on calculations of the value of the casino’s three parcels. A separate appeal filed by Ameristar Casino over values placed on its 20 parcels is also unsettled, though is reportedly closer to a resolution.

Supervisors expect slight budget overruns this year and are pinning hopes of building cash reserves through earlier cuts to charitable agencies to support the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library and Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport. The county’s overall budget deficit shrinks slightly in the initial draft, to $497,525.

Charitable support, allowable only by act of the Legislature, is penciled in for a 23.7 percent cut compared to last year, to $225,105. County support for NRoute would be trimmed by $1,400, to $30,100 next year. Main Street support would be cut in half, to $8,000, and VTR wouldn’t see the extra $25,000 to 30,000 in capital support, according to the initial draft.

“I see we’re decreasing our cash balance from last year, so we’re going backward,” District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale said. “Somehow or another, we’ve gotta cut stuff. We can’t be funding everything.”

Five more bailiffs and a prison population manager at Warren County Jail would add to the facility’s $1.4 million budget. Indigent defense costs are expected to make up the biggest projected bulge in spending — about $54,000 — absent a public defender system that would require fewer attorneys and capped legal fees. Costs of circuit court to county government should exceed $1 million for the third time in five years, according to the draft. Fine collections from circuit, justice and youth courts are predicted to drop at least $80,000, while more than $6,000 in equipment to speed up digitization of electronic case filing figures to stay in the final budget, to be adopted by supervisors Sept. 7.

Reimbursements to the county from homestead exemptions are slotted at $509,940, based on another 10 percent cut from the state, Smith said. Higher autopsy fees for the coroner and a request from District Attorney Ricky Smith to fund a third assistant DA with local funds make for $18,500 in new spending for those departments.

Supervisors expect to tackle the sheriff’s department’s budget in talks set for today. The board convenes an objection hearing at 9 a.m. Monday for those who wish to voice their concerns over property values. Last year, the county received written formal complaints from six businesses.