County eyes fees, job vacancies to shore up deficitSupervisors stick to tax pledge

Published 11:33 pm Friday, August 3, 2012

Shoring up a $204,549 deficit in Warren County’s evolving budget for fiscal 2013 without a tax increase could prompt higher building permit fees and keep three open positions vacant, county supervisors said during budget meetings Friday.

Raising fees to build sheds, barns and other structures outside Vicksburg to at least $20 would net about $9,000 in extra revenue based on estimated activity this year, County Administrator John Smith said. Currently, the fee is $5.

A $114,722 chunk in salaries and benefits expected to be paid next year all but disappeared from the budget plans. Those posts include an operations officer in emergency management, part-time help in the Tax Collector’s office and a clerk position in the Tax Assessor’s office.

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A fourth position supervisors had eyed to leave vacant was for a third assistant district attorney, but the position was filled Monday, Smith said.

Seven additional positions requested by the sheriff’s department also would be denied next year, supervisors said.

The sheriff, however, can raise salaries within what supervisors allocate to the department.

Additional cuts considered Friday included private security at justice court, currently $25,000, and a $10,000 per-item cap on maintenance items for county buildings.

Supervisors accepted the tough cuts grudgingly.

“People cost a lot of money,” Board President Bill Lauderdale said. “That’s where all our expenses are.”

“I’d cut NRoute before I cut the sheriff’s department,” District 5 Supervisor Richard George said. The public transportation system funded in part by the city has asked the county for $50,000 in support next year; supervisors have pledged no more than the $30,100 it has ponied up since 2009.

No vote is binding on the budget until the board votes formally, expected after a public hearing Sept. 4. Spending in working drafts totals $15.08 million.

The looming budget hole is traced to a 24 percent drop in personal property assessments. On Friday, officials said the shortage was traced this week to a single account assigned in 2010 to Ergon Refining but deleted in October 2011 by the Tax Assessor’s Office without being spread on county board minutes. The account reflected a fee-in-lieu of property taxes, which dictated the company pay taxes on one-third of the equipment’s assessed value.

Last month, officials said an extra $25.60 on what the county levies on tax bills issued in December was imminent to balance out the shortage. The tack-on would rise for assessments more than $100,000. On Monday, the Vicksburg Warren School District voted to request enough money to raise $26,257,804 to fund programs next year. Based on the reduced personal property total, it would prompt a 1.39-mill increase in what the district levies on tax bills.