Aldermen want more county money for roads

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2005

NATCHEZ &045;&045; In budget work sessions and a recent meeting with county officials, Natchez aldermen have called for supervisors to fork over more funds for road repairs inside the city.

Natchez residents, they said, pay both city and county taxes but don’t get the full benefit of the county taxes they pay.

&uot;After all, the residents of the city live inside the county also,&uot; Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said at a recent Board of Aldermen meeting.

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They also pointed to the Hinds County Board of Supervisors’ decision earlier this month to allocate $500,000 to the City of Jackson for street repairs inside that city.

Meanwhile, county Adams County officials maintain they give the amount required by law and can’t afford to give more for the same reason the city is asking for more money &045;&045; economic stagnation that persists two years after a string of factory closings in the area.

&uot;Money’s tight,&uot; County Administrator Charles Brown said, citing such things as insurance and other increasing costs as factors that will force the county to pare down its budget. &uot;We’re looking right now to see where we have to cut.&uot;

They also pointed to road projects they’ve funded inside the city in recent years.

At the same time, the city already gets half of the county’s road millage times the assessed value of properties within the city limits &045;&045; the amount the county is required by law to share.

A mill represents one-tenth of every cent of a property’s assessed value and is used to figure property taxes.

For this fiscal year, the city received less than $25,000 from the county’s tax road revenues, which go into the city’s general fund &045;&045; down from $156,000 in 2002.

Not including personnel, the city’s Public Works Department has spent about $70,000 for this fiscal year just maintaining roads, and no major resurfacing projects have been done except those that are being done with federal funds, said Eric Smith, director of administration for the city’s Public Works Division.

At the same time, tough budget times have forced Adams County to cut the amount of money set aside for road improvements, Brown said.

That means that the county has had to cut its road budget and, in turn, the city has received less in county road revenues.

The county, like the city, is required by law to pass its budget by Sept. 15 for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and is now conducting work sessions to go over departments’ budgets.

Still, Brown said that by law, the county is paying what is required by law to pay and noted, along with other county officials, that the county does road work inside the city, too.

Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said the county is in the process of building a new access road to West Primary School and has helped in recent years to repave Highland Boulevard. Both projects were paid for with State Aid road money, but the county itself paid such costs as engineering, legal work and right-of-way acquisition, Grennell said.

The county also paid $85,000 toward the extension of Government Fleet Road. The city

Other in-city road infrastructure projects with which the county has helped in recent years include overlaying on Beltline Highway and drainage work on Philips Lane as well as improvements to Old Washington Road.

&uot;We have hundreds of miles of roads outside the city limits we have to take care of, so we’re doing more than our fair share inside the city limits,&uot; Grennell said.

Adams County does get hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in state road privilege tax money, not including money from gas taxes, overweight truck fines, state truck and bus privilege taxes and grants, although that amount for the current fiscal year wasn’t available from Brown as of press time.

However, according to State Tax Commission figures, the county’s share of state road privilege tax money had gone from more than $851,000 in fiscal 2001-2002 alone to less than $290,000 in 2003-2004, and its share of gas taxes had fallen from $447,052 to $181,922.

Meanwhile, the issue is one with which most Mississippi cities struggle, according to officials of the Mississippi Municipal League, which has even considered funding a study on what it calls &uot;tax equity,&uot; or the amount of county services city residents get for the taxes they pay.

That includes not only money for roads, but for other services as well &045;&045; including in-city recreation, for which Natchez officials have called for more than the $50,000 a year Adams County currently pays.

Even the cities that have gotten funds from their counties for such purposes have called it a hard-won victory. That was the case in Southaven, where in one recent year the city received an extra $600,000 in road repair money from Desoto County in addition to the $600,000 the city gets as its legal share of the county’s road millage.

The county still paves some Southaven streets on a case-by-case basis and foots other expenses, such as the housing of prisoners and the purchase of some city ambulances, although the city only gets $10,000 of its $2 million recreation budget from the county.

One key to such victories as Southaven has had is having hard figures in hand &045;&045; including a local tax equity study, Mayor Greg Davis said.

That county’s several towns also meet with county officials monthly to discuss joint issues that arise and keep the lines of communication open.

Other than that, Davis said, it just takes &uot;tough negotiations and strong persuasion.&uot;