County taxes grow as final budget is OK’d

Published 11:15 am Thursday, September 4, 2014

090414-County Taxes MAIN


It’s official now — taxpayers countywide will see higher property taxes for 2014 when bills arrive in December, equal to that of about a dozen gallons of milk at the grocery store.

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The Warren County Board of Supervisors passed a budget for fiscal 2014-15 that spends $15.4 million from the general fund to support county government starting Oct. 1. Spending is $267,532 more than last year to fund 5 percent pay raises for all 270 or so county employees and absorb higher costs in the employee health insurance plan.

Overall, millage rates from which county and school taxes are derived are increasing 3.43 mills, to 91.77 mills. The hikes translate into $34.30 more in taxes for every $100,000 assessed on homes, businesses, agricultural land and other property, County Administrator John Smith said in a presentation to the county board on Monday. A largely silent board passed the spending plan unanimously. No member of the public besides the supervisors and clerks attended a 20-minute public hearing on the budget.

The picture on city taxes won’t be done until the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen adopt a budget. This year’s city budget is expected to be official next Wednesday, as city officials have mulled for weeks ways to cut a projected $1.1 million deficit in a proposed $32.4 million spending plan for next year.

Much of the tax hike, 2.46 mills worth to be exact, is to comply with this year’s request from the Vicksburg Warren School District for operations costs. Public schools asked for more than $27.6 million for the coming year, or about $1.3 million more than last year.

A .95-mill hike in the county’s general fund was necessary “because of a decrease in assessments over the past few years, along with rising health care costs,” Smith said. The county is on pace to spend $2.7 million this year to cover at least 15 claims for doctor visits, surgical procedures and other medical costs; the current budget allowed for $2.3 million health-related spending.

The need for pay raises was most acute in the sheriff’s department, as was the case the last time salaries in county government were raised in 2011. The final version essentially splits an additional $384,000 between two funds for the department to finance the raises, hiring a clerk to work with evidence in criminal investigations, six new patrol cruisers and a prisoner transport van. Half the money will come from the fund that holds revenue taxes paid to the county by Vicksburg’s four casinos, according to a breakdown of spending from the fund included in the budget.

Gaming money is projected downward in the budget, to $2.2 million from the $2.7 million in the current budget.

The lone issue raised in the 20-minute hearing was the absence of gaming funds for anti-erosion projects inside the city, mainly the district of District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon.

“Did we talk about NRCS projects, because we have zero money budgeted,” Selmon asked Smith during the hearing. Smith said a $31,750 allocation indeed appeared, in the general fund breakdown, represented the one spot of growth in the Natural Resources Conservation Service program, in which counties match federal dollars to shore up spots along roadways that are threatened by erosion caused by the weather.

Property tax revenue from public utilities such as power lines and telecommunications infrastructure will be higher this year, preventing the tax bite from being any deeper. Those assessments totaled $101.5 million, up by about $1.7 million.

On the agenda

Meeting Monday, the Warren County Board of Supervisors: 

• Approved sending letters to Warren County’s circuit and county judges to talk about finding ways to collect more old fines levied on defendants in criminal cases.

Supervisors also said they’d invite Chris Epps, chief of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, to such a session. No time or place was nailed down.

• Approved travel expenses for supervisors and the county administrator to attend various seminars inside and outside the state between now and October.

The events include the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District meeting in Jackson on Friday, Mississippi Association of Supervisors’ county government workshop in Natchez Oct. 20-22 and CMPDD’s workforce development policy conference in New Jersey on Oct. 15-17. District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, as the county board’s representative in the planning district’s program, will attend the workforce development meeting.

• Approved invoices totaling $6,485.53 from county engineer John McKee for engineering services and $8,655.21 from board attorney Marcie Southerland for legal services.

• Approved a $5,235 request from the Warren County Parks and Recreation Commission to rent 16th Section land from the Vicksburg Warren School District on which the soccer fields at Clear Creek sit.