Tax hike dance begins

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Editor’s note: The original version of this story incorrectly listed the Adams County Board of Supervisor’s voting record on a vote taken Monday to fund repairs to the George W. Armstrong air-conditioning system. The board voted unanimously to give the library $18,000 for the repairs. The Democrat regrets the error and is happy to set the record straight.

NATCHEZ — While Adams County’s budget is still subject to change, the county’s preliminary projected budget skated the line of requiring a slight tax increase at Monday’s budget meeting.

Plenty of variables exist, however, that could change the budget before the Adams County Board of Supervisors is required to adopt it by Sept. 15, County Administrator Joe Murray said.

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One factor that could shift the budget under or over the tax increase threshold will be determined by the supervisors’ yet-to-be-made decision to allocate $173,297 to hire four more sheriff’s deputies.

Sheriff Chuck Mayfield requested the additional deputies — one for each of his office’s four shifts — at an Aug. 15 budget meeting. Mayfield partially attributed the need for a fourth deputy on each shift to an increase in the number of calls his office now receives inside the city limits.

Board President Darryl Grennell said he thought the board should turn down the request for more deputies because the population of Adams County has decreased, according to the U.S. Census.

“Unless (the county) has a population surge — that would justify need for increase in (sheriff’s office) personnel,” Grennell said. “(The county) has had a decrease in population.”

In addition, Grennell pointed out the former administration at the sheriff’s office increased personnel at the sheriff’s office in recent years by adding court security.

“As far as I’m concerned on the $173,279 — I say cut it,” Grennell said.

No other supervisors gave a definitive answer about the hiring of four deputies.

Murray said hiring the four deputies could cause the budget to increase by less than one mill. Murray noted, however, that other minor cuts could be made across all departments in order to hire the deputies.

District 5 Supervisor S.E. “Spanky” Felter did not give an answer about the sheriff’s deputies but said he would not vote for a tax increase.

Felter suggested cutting portions of furniture expenses from all departments. Murray said he could go back and cut furniture or other supplies. Some supervisors said saving the cost of hiring four deputies would be the most efficient way to avoid a tax increase.

District 2 Supervisor Henry Watts questioned the board’s authority to tell the sheriff if he could hire employees.

“You have been here long enough to know we do not tell the sheriff how to spend money,” Watts told Grennell.

Chancery Clerk Tommy O’Beirne said the board cannot tell the sheriff how to spend money once it is allocated to the sheriff’s department. But he said the board can decide if it wants to approve or deny requests for funds after learning how the sheriff intends to spend them.

Murray said he could continue to look for other ways to continue cutting departments’ budgets.

“Don’t you feel like you’ve done what you can to most of them?” District 1 Mike Lazarus asked Murray.

Murray said he had already eliminated excess monies in most departments following a review of each department’s current budget expenses. He also said he drafted the road department’s budget himself and did not think there was very much padding to eliminate.

“People are operating on lean budgets,” Murray said of county departments.

The board did not make a decision Monday about hiring four more deputies.

Another variable county officials are still waiting on that will contribute to the budget depends on feedback from efforts to refinance the county’s $2.4 million road bond.

The supervisors took out a loan for a road project this current fiscal year to fund asphalt overlays on roads in the poorest shape across the county.

O’Beirne said he was waiting to hear back from financial advisors to learn if the county could refinance the loan from a five-year note to a 15-year note.

O’Beirne estimated the county might be able to pay $300,000 in debt service during the 2011-2012 fiscal year for the road bond.

In other news from Monday’s budget meeting:

• Even though the Natchez-Adams School District requested the same amount of money as last year — $11,121,570 — the ad valorem request included a 0.63 mill increase, Murray said after the meeting.

Because the value of a mill decreased as the result of a drop in the assessed value of property, the school district will require slightly higher millage for the next budget year to attain the same amount of funds.

Pending any changes to assessed property value, the value of a mill is $210,353 county wide, $101,722 outside city limits and $217,851 for the school district, according to an assessed valuations worksheet provided by Murray.

• The supervisors voted unanimously to fund $18,000 in repairs to the chiller unit at the George W. Armstrong Library, which is part of the library’s air-conditioning system.

Although the library is city-owned, the supervisors applied for a $140,000 grant to fix the library’s air conditioning unit last year. Approximately $123,000 of the grant will be used for construction and the remainder was used for administrative fees.

Library Director Susan Cassagne said the grant, however, was not enough to pay for $36,000 in repairs to the chiller portion of the system. The chiller currently operates at approximately 15 to 20 percent capacity, architect Johnny Waycaster of Waycaster and Associates told the board.

Cassagne said the library was asking for half of the repair costs to the chiller unit from the county and would request the remaining $18,000 from the Natchez Board of Aldermen today.