Supervisors pass 2018 budget

Published 8:10 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Warren County supervisors Monday approved a $36.18 million general fund budget for fiscal year 2018 featuring a 3.11 mill increase in property taxes and a projected fund balance of $5,000.

The supervisors’ vote came after a public hearing Monday morning on the budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1.

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County administrator John Smith said 2.51 mills of the millage increase will go to the general fund, with .6 mills going towards debt service for two short-term notes. The increase raises the total general county millage to 103.06 mills.

The supervisors recently approved a $1.4 million capital improvements loan for the repairs to the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library roof, chiller and elevator; fix problems at Riverfront Park; upgrade the elevators at the Warren County Courthouse and jail, and the pavilion at Clear Creek Golf Course. The Board of Supervisors also approved a $1.2 million loan to purchase property for a new jail.

Smith said the loans will be paid off in five years. One mill, according to a copy of the budget presented to the meeting is expected to bring in $528,549. He said projected revenue from property taxes, fees, reimbursements to the county and payments in lieu of taxes total $17.917 million. He said expenses are projected to total $17.912 million, leaving an estimated projected fund balance of about $5,000.

He said the expenditures include $3.1 million for employee health insurance, $4.19 million for the sheriff’s department, which includes a metal detector for the courthouse, and an increase in ambulance fees to the city of Vicksburg for service in the county. The county will pay the city $400 per ambulance run into the county, and split the cost of the runs for the city’s emergency unit.

Smith said the budget also included budgets for emergency management, county fire service and E-911.

The millage increase brought comments from county resident Henry Blake.

“I’m questioning the worthiness of a tax increase,” he told the board. “I would rather see the county meet its needs on the income it’s currently deriving.”

He asked the board if it has cut any expenses in departments.

“I didn’t get a raise this year, which means I have to cut back,” he said.

Board president Richard George did not discuss any cuts in the budget.

He said the areas responsible for the millage increase “are areas that are mandated to be addressed by either federal, state or local agencies, or our growth and the need for public safety, law enforcement and emergency services. We are responsible to see that they are available and provided to the citizens without fail, and that responsibility must be met.”

“It is our duty to see that we keep you as safe as we can, and tend to your emergency medical needs as quickly and efficiently as we can.”

He said the board has been successful working with the city and other agencies to provide those needs, “But it is expensive. Our expectations and the standard of living and expectations of our taxpayers are what they are.”

No one likes a tax increase, George said, but the county’s revenue sources are limited, and the supervisors have no other choice. He said the board has been fortunate to have few millage increases, but indicated more were coming as the county moves forward with building a new jail to serve the city and county.

“I’m concerned,” Blake said. “The county’s needs are without question, but the citizens’ contribution to this — there’s no other alternative. I think there must be, because the county can’t have everything that they want if the citizens can’t provide. If the slope keeps going up on the millage rate, we’ll just run ourselves into bankruptcy.

“The actual millage rate, if it keeps going up, eventually you’re going to be taking more and more money from the citizens of Warren County,” Blake said.

He asked if the millage rate had ever decreased. Smith said it had not decreased in 12 years. George said the county hasn’t experienced sufficient growth in assessed value to allow the supervisors to reduce the millage. The county, he said, had to have the funds “to meet the demand at hand.”

“Maybe the demands at hand are more than they need to be,” Blake said. “I understand everybody wants and the county needs things but to pay for them is a different matter.”

He asked about the metal detector for the courthouse, which is estimated to cost $20,000 and two additional people at $31,500.

“Have we ever had any incursions in the courthouse that would warrant this? Do we have a history in the courthouse?” His questions drew nods from Chancery Clerk Donna Hardy and her chief deputy, Beverly Johnson, and from the supervisors. George said there had been several incidents in the past where deputies and bailiffs had to respond to disturbances in courtrooms and the building.

“If we have to have something like that, I would much rather see something cut than raise, the millage,” Blake said. “That’s my concern.”

Mark Warner of Vicksburg said he was concerned about property assessments, saying the assessment of his property increased by almost 50 percent. He said the city and county had too much duplication of services. “You’re taking money out of my pocket,” he said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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