Supervisors hold line in new budget

Published 7:19 pm Friday, August 20, 2010

Lincoln County supervisors are looking to hold their ground withthe annual budget again this year, standing firm on a $15.2 millionspending plan that calls for no tax increases and no majorreductions.

County leaders met briefly Thursday morning to review a draftbudget for fiscal year 2011 that will likely go into effect Oct. 1with no changes, unofficially approving the arithmetic of countyadministrator David Fields with only light discussion. The$15,281,297 budget is almost identical to the previous year’s plan,built upon a tax levy derived from 49.68 mills, an amount slightlylowered from last year’s 49.80 mills. The tax levy will generate$66,971 less this year.

“Working under the premise of no new taxes, holding the budget,this is where we’re at,” Fields told supervisors. “It’s prettysimple this year – just holding everything where it is.”

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Funding local criminal justice – including the sheriff’sdepartment, jail and all local courts – requires $3,898,171, or 26percent of the county budget. Solid waste, the reappraisal fund andother funds take up $3,202,139, or 21 percent.

Almost $3.1 million, or 20 percent of the county budget, has beenset aside for road and bridge repairs. Trust funds that pay forCopiah-Lincoln Community College, Southwest Mississippi Planningand Development District and other district-based organizationswill take up $1,268,454, or 8 percent of the budget, while bondfunds are calculated to $900,000, or 6 percent.

The only increase in county spending planned for the coming fiscalyear will be dedicated to the Lincoln County School District andCo-Lin. Although countywide assessed value increased byapproximately $2 million, an additional $3.5 million in exemptproperty was added to the rolls, resulting in an overall decreaseof $1.5 million. But exemptions don’t affect schools, Fields said,and both institutions experienced increases.

The Lincoln County system will receive $3,976,988 from countycoffers in fiscal year 2011, an increase of $93,659 over lastyear’s amount. The school district did not request additionalmillage, only what the millage generated last year.

The formula can be confusing, with the school district advertisingbudget plans that include no increase and an increase comingregardless. Fields explained that state law allows schools torequest the same funding they received from the previous year, andthe previous year’s total is usually higher than what wasoriginally requested.

“When the schools come out and say we’re not asking for an any newmoney, they’re not. But they are,” he said. “Last year they askedfor $3,383,329, but they actually received, through levies andappropriations, $3,976,988. So we have to go levy for $3.9million.”

Fields said the gradual nudge forward occurs every year in partbecause school districts’ fiscal years begin on July 1, leavingthree months of collections for counties to bring in. Despite theincrease in funding, school millage will actually decrease byalmost a half-mill to 50.50 mills.

“When you come out and say you’re not asking for any new mills,well, you don’t know that. We won’t know the millage until we getall our values,” he said. “If we ask for the same amount on the newassessed values, the millage rate will change each year. Themillage rate is arbitrary. Don’t think in terms of millage – thinkabout levies.”

Co-Lin, meanwhile, will enjoy a smaller increase of $31,661, butone supervisor wanted to bump that number up. District TwoSupervisor Bobby Watts pleaded with his peers to increase thecommunity college’s appropriation.

“Most of the workers there are from Lincoln County, most of thekids there are from Lincoln County,” he said. “It’s a pretty placeup there and it needs to be funded the best we can.”

The other four supervisors were not receptive to Watts’ request.The school’s dedicated millage will produce $543,153 for themaintenance fund and $663,854 for the improvement fund – bothincreases over last year’s totals.

“We said at the beginning of this process we’d try to hold theline, and we need to hold it,” said board president DougMoak.

Not every fund will increase this year. Appropriations to theLincoln Civic Center will fall by more than $57,000, while the 9-11subsidy will decrease $50,000.

With the county switching from Southwest Mississippi Mental HealthComplex (Region 11) to Region 8 Mental Health Services, thoseappropriations will fall by almost $13,000. With Region 11 gone,the county will not fund a drug scholarship to Newhaven RecoveryCenter this year, saving $10,000.