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Tax increase to address recreation, other needs

After struggling for weeks to determine a budget that would notinclude a tax increase, Monticello aldermen Wednesday passed abudget that includes a property tax hike.

Mayor David Nichols cited the creation of a Parks and RecreationDepartment, uncertainty regarding a state plan to eliminate salestax and groceries and cost increases in fuel, utilities andinsurance as the causes for the town’s first tax increase in sevenyears.

“Originally, we were looking at four mills, but we were able tokeep it down to three,” he said.

Each mill brings in approximately $10,000 to the town’s generalfund while costing residents $7 on a $75,000 home, Nichols said. Inthat example, three mills will mean a resident with a $75,000 homewill be paying about $21 more in property taxes next year.

Overall, the projected increase will bring in an additional$30,000 to the town’s coffers.

However, the increase alone will not cover the operational costsof the Parks and Recreation Department created last year to overseethe Lawrence County Sportsplex and Atwood Water Park.

“The three mills doesn’t even cover the cost of the operation,”the mayor said. “By juggling some things, we were able to keep aslow as possible.”

The town is supplementing the parks department budget by$52,000, Nichols said.

The parks department is expected to become self-sustaining inthree to five years through field usage fees, tournament play,concessions and other revenue generation, he said. In the meantime,however, the town must fund the facility to provide thoseactivities and pay the salaries of the parks director and parkranger.

Parks Director David Jones’ task is to develop those programsand recruit activities. The park ranger is responsible for themaintenance and upkeep of the parks.

The only capital purchase in the 2007 budget is the $12,000purchase of an emergency siren. The siren is the second for thetown in its efforts to provide an early warning system forresidents. The sirens are sounded when the town is placed understorm warnings or in the event of a similar emergency.

Once complete, Ward Five Alderman Craig “Bowie” Davis’ planwould require four sirens spread throughout the town to provideoptimal warning. Town officials are pursuing a federal grant thatcould allow for the purchase of the third siren later thisyear.

Aldermen also approved a suggestion provided by a residentduring the budget hearing to improve efficiency while picking uplimbs and other “green” rubbish.

In the past, Nichols said, work crews would sweep the entiretown removing the rubbish, but often would travel several streetswithout a pickup.

The board approved a plan that would have police officersidentify areas needing pickup while making their patrols and relyon residents to notify them when rubbish is deposited beside theroad.

“This will save both fuel and time and help us reduce thoserising costs,” Nichols said.

Another undetermined factor aldermen had to take underconsideration was the expected re-emergence of a bill in the stateLegislature to eliminate the sales tax on groceries. Approximately10 percent of the town’s budget originates with those taxes,Nichols said.

Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck last year advanced a play to eliminate thesales tax on groceries and offset those losses by increasing thetaxes on cigarettes. Critics, including Nichols, said the originalplan did not adequately reimburse municipalities for the loss inrevenue.

A revised plan introduced later in the session to address thatissue was also vetoed by Gov. Haley Barbour. Tuck has vowed shewould continue to fight for grocery sales tax break next year.

“We just don’t know what will happen with that,” Nichols said.”We have to be prepared for it.”

The board also included a slight increase in salary for cityemployees and department heads. Aldermen, however, will not see asalary increase.

Nichols held out hope for a second salary increase later in theyear, but that would depend on how the Legislature voted on thesales tax issue.