City officials optimistic about lean budget

Published 12:05 am Thursday, September 20, 2007

NATCHEZ — Although the city’s budget, approved Monday, is tight, some city officials said they are optimistic about what the next year will bring.

“It’s very tight,” said City Clerk Donnie Holloway, whose office is responsible for compiling the budget. “There’s no fat in it.”

The $29,498,001 budget —what the city plans to earn and spend — includes a projected tax revenue increase, 10 percent over this fiscal year’s, Holloway said.

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With new hotels going up and proposed casinos, the city should receive more sales taxes from more construction supplies, he said.

However, the 2007-2008 city budget does not take into account the expected sales taxes when the planned hotels and casinos open, Holloway said.

Sales taxes were down this past year by $164,000, but still up when compared to pre-Hurricane Katrina years, Holloway said.

“Our sales tax revenue this past year was above normal, even though it was slightly down from the year before, which was the best year in the history of the city as far as sales taxes,” Mayor Phillip West said.

The 2007-2008 budget also assumes the city will collect $125,000 of outstanding municipal court fines, Holloway said. Collecting those fines would mean more money for the city.

“I’ve talked with Judge (Jim) Blough and Chief (Mike) Mullins about it,” Holloway said. “We’re going to get together and decide how to handle it.”

Along with those monies, $50,000 was transferred to the general fund from inactive funds or leftover funds from finished products, Holloway said.

The city also transferred 1 mil of tax funds from the fire and police pension fund to the general fund.

“The Public Employees Retirement Systems does a study every year,” Holloway said. “We had been putting in 8.1 mils. This year, they have recommended we put in 7.1 mils into that fund.”

That would not mean any pension cuts for police officers or firemen, Holloway said. The appropriation will likely revert back to the pension fund the next year, he said.

Millage is a measurement of property taxes.

A city resident pays both city and county taxes. A city resident who owns a $100,000 house would pay $1,618 in taxes each year, a combination of both city and county taxes. If he qualifies for a homestead exemption, an extra $300 is deducted from his taxes.

The house’s value, $100,000, is multiplied by 10 percent to reach the assessed value, or $10,000, Tax Assessor Reynolds Atkins said. That number is multiplied by the mills, or .161822 — both city and county taxes — to reach the total tax of $1,618.

Special exceptions are made for those more than 65 years old or disabled, he said.

West said he was optimistic about the coming year.

“We’ve got a lot of projects coming in the future, and I believe we will be OK,” West said.

With hotels, casinos and other businesses coming on line in the next few months, “We can’t help but benefit from a financial point,” he said.

The city’s 2007-2008 budget is available in Holloway’s office in city hall for the public to examine during regular business hours.