Pay raises prompt tax hike in county budget version

Published 11:16 am Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Property taxes would go up at least another $6 to fund pay raises for all county employees in the most recent version of Warren County’s budget for fiscal 2015.

A plan discussed Monday by county supervisors increases general fund spending by more than $375,000 compared to this year. It spreads a plan to pay sheriff’s deputies countywide by applying a 3 percent for all 270 or so employees of the county.

Millage rates that fund the county and public schools would go up by 2.67 mills, or by $26.70 on every $100,000 assessed. In June, Vicksburg Warren School District trustees all but confirmed higher school taxes by approving 2 additional mills to its rate.

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Supervisors expect to adopt a final version Sept. 2. Property tax bills arrive in December.

A .82-mill hike in the county’s general fund millage “will be required to balance our budget and meet the personnel request for cost-of-living pay increases for all employees,” County Administrator John Smith told supervisors Monday. If adopted as is, taxpayers would be paying taxes on 91.01 mills levied by the county and school district. That does not include city taxes, which have been levied on 35.88 mills for the past decade.

One mill generates $522,246 on the revised version, or about $2,028 less than the first version, Smith said, due to a combination of slow growth in property values and legal items. Real property grew less than half of 1 percent this year, according to land rolls supervisors adopted earlier this month. The second version also assumes about $500,000 less for the coming year in personal property, or assets not tied to land.

Supervisors’ discussion in the budget session indicated a spirited debate between now and early September.

“I’m for the 5 percent (raises) myself,” District 1 Supervisor John Arnold said. “They haven’t had raises in four years.”

Arnold referred to pay raises as a necessity despite the school tax hike, while Board President Bill Lauderdale retained a hardline stance against more spending, including pay raises.

“We’re going to raise taxes anyway, looks like,” Arnold said. “People want to see better schools. They want to see the sheriff’s people make a living.”

“They might until they get their tax bill,” Lauderdale said. “I hadn’t heard anyone say they want their taxes raised.”

Sheriff Martin Pace on Friday had asked supervisors to come up with a plan to pay deputies on a tiered system based on promotions or achievement. Specifics weren’t hashed out, but the department’s budget request included raises of between 3 and 5 percent, depending on rank.

Health insurance claims are expected to hit the budget harder heading into fiscal 2015, Smith said. Fifteen employees have hit benchmarks in their health coverage that puts the onus on the county to pay claims for doctor visits, surgical procedures and more.

“We had budgeted for $2.3 million (in health care expenses for employees), and we’re on our way to $2.7 million,” Smith said. “We’re proposing using more money from gaming to subsidize the health plan. So, that money is competing with dollars for raises.”

Revenue from public utilities, which are assessed by the state Department of Revenue, is expected to arrive in August. Depending on the total assessments, that figure has made the difference between raising or not raising millage rates to fund salaries, most recently in 2011 when county employees last received a bump in base pay.