Supervisors criticized over budget

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2003

WOODVILLE &045; On Monday, Wilkinson County supervisors voted 3-2 to formally adopt the 2004 fiscal year budget based on a 6-mill reduction in the county’s tax levy.

The reduced millage rate means county residents will pay about $61 less in yearly ad valorem taxes on a single-family, owner-occupied residential property valued at $100,000.

But with each mill currently raising about $46,500 in property taxes, the county will also operate with $279,000 less revenue in the next fiscal year.

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Supervisors Kirk Smith, Jack Darden and W.G. Johnson voted to adopt the budget, which calls for a 2.5-mill cut in the county-wide road fund and 1-mill reductions in the county-wide bridge and general funds.

Other tax revenue funds dedicated to retiring bond debts on the Fruit of the Loom Building and Field Memorial Community Hospital were also cut by 1 mill and .5 mills, respectively.

Supervisors Robert Morgan and Mack Haynes voted against the budget proposal. Morgan questioned the wisdom of a millage rate reduction when the county is facing a $456,503 deficit in its insurance fund.

&uot;It doesn’t make any economic sense when you’re operating at a deficit to drop your millage rate by 6 mills. That’s voodoo economics,&uot; Morgan said.

Last week, Chancery Clerk Thomas Tolliver advised the board that a 3.7-mill increase was needed to reduce the insurance deficit and pay for increased maintenance fees on computer and appraisal services, now estimated at $157,000 yearly.

Instead, the board voted 3-1, with Haynes opposed and Morgan absent, to reduce the millage rate from 93.08 mills to 87.08 mills. Supervisors told Tolliver to take 2.5 mills from the county-wide road fund and cut another 3.5 mills at his discretion.

Tolliver said wherever possible he budgeted reductions in fuel consumption and maintenance of materials, hoping to avoid personnel cuts. But with interfund loan sources depleted and vendors’ bills and insurance claims to be paid, Tolliver wondered how the county will operate in the immediate future.

&uot;Our biggest problem at the moment is ‘how are we going to make the year?’ We’re at the point where we’re just trying to figure out where we’re going to make payroll from,&uot; he said.

Tolliver said $200,000 escrowed from last year’s tax collections will likely be used to help fund county operations through the end of the current fiscal year.

About 20 residents opposed to any tax increases attended last week’s meeting. On Monday, the board faced a different audience as about a dozen county employees facing stiff increases in insurance costs and possible layoffs appeared to protest the budget cuts.

&uot;When we voted and put you in as our leaders and representatives, we expected you to do it fairly and honestly. We did our job, and now it’s time for you to do your job,&uot; said Albert Dennis, a jailor for the sheriff’s department.

However, Smith, Darden and Johnson adopted the pared-down budget, which includes $37,000 less for the sheriff’s department and $16,000 less for courthouse maintenance.

Though the board took no action Monday on the matter of a more affordable health insurance policy, officials are recommending that county employees with single coverage plans pay a $127.50 monthly premium. The county currently pays the entire cost of single-coverage plans for about 55 employees.

Employees with family plans would also pay an additional $205, bringing their total monthly premiums to $430. Employee deductibles would also be increased from $250 to $500 or $750.