Plan may avoid tax increase

Published 12:07 am Thursday, August 25, 2011

NATCHEZ — After hours of discussion and some reluctant decision-making, the Adams County Board Supervisors figured out a way to avoid a tax increase at Wednesday’s budget meeting.

The budget is not finalized and is subject to change until its official approval Sept. 1, County Administrator Joe Murray said.

Topics on the chopping block at Wednesday’s meeting included funding increases for four new deputies for the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, raises for county employees and the budget for Adams County Drug Court.

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The board voted — or nodded in agreement — not to fund the deputies, raises or a budget boost for drug court.

When District 1 Supervisor Mike Lazarus made a motion to exclude a budget request of approximately $173,000 from the budget to hire four new deputies, a discussion delayed a vote.

District 3 Supervisor Thomas “Boo” Campbell said he wanted deputies to be able to respond in a timelier manner when needed, and he was personally in favor of hiring new deputies.

Campbell said that unlike District 2 Supervisor Henry Watts or District 5 Supervisor S.E. “Spanky” Felter, he would be in favor of raising taxes if it meant hiring more deputies to patrol the streets.

“People complain when you raise their taxes,” Campbell said. “But the bottom line is people want the services, but they don’t want to pay for it.”

“Something’s got to give,” he said.

Watts suggested voting on the new deputies was premature since the board still had other budget issues to discuss.

“What is the purpose of the rest of budget sessions (if a vote was taken)? I’m not through with appropriations,” Watts said.

Watts later said $747,000 funded to appropriations needed to be discussed before making decisions.

“You said we were not doing anything (decision making) until we get to the end,” Watts said to Lazarus.

“With this answer right here, we can put a budget together,” Lazarus countered.

Lazarus’ motion to exclude the funding for four new deputies went to a vote after much discussion.

Board President Darryl Grennell said the vote was unanimous in favor of Lazarus’ motion because he did not hear any supervisors indicate a “nay.”

Supervisors also did not clearly indicate if they were for the motion.

Six members of the Adams County Road Department crew appeared at the board to ask for raises.

Grass cutter Willie Jackson said pay scales are unfair at the road department, where some employees’ salaries aren’t comparable to others.

Grennell said pay scales are uneven because the road department used to be paid differently in each district according to the beat system.

“That system is outdated and broken,” Watts said. “We need merit performance schedule.”

Other supervisors agreed a new pay schedule was needed in the road department, which could possibly be addressed next year under a new road manager.

Campbell said it has been difficult in the past to grant one department or certain employee raises unless raises are distributed across the board.

Lazarus said the supervisors do not have the money this year for raises, and many other departments requested them as well.

“Pay raises are unrealistic,” Campbell said.

“I agree with Boo,” Watts said.

Felter nodded.

“We don’t have the money,” Lazarus said.

Grennell was absent from the room during Thursday’s final discussion of raises.

Murray said after affirming four nods from supervisors he would compute the final budget without raises.

The board also agreed not to fund Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders’ request for more than $80,000 for drug court.

Sanders said state grant funds have dried up, leaving drug court a near $90,000 deficit in its budget.

Sanders said drug court has graduated 52 people since the program started in 2004, which she has learned is a high success rate among drug court programs.

Adams County received less funding for the next fiscal year, Sanders said, since the state now requires 125 program participants to receive $150,000 — the amount drug court received in previous years.

Adams County currently has 82 participants in drug court, Sanders said, and she felt Adams County suffered from the new formula because Natchez is located in a rural area with a lower population.

Campbell, Watts, Felter and Campbell discussed the drug court funding following Sanders’ exit from the boardroom.

“They’ve got to deal with the state,” Watts said of the drug court’s cuts.

Campbell agreed that the county cannot pick up the slack for every cut the state makes to local programs.

“The state cut (drug court), not us,” Felter said.

“We don’t have the money,” Lazarus said.

After Murray received a consensus that the supervisors wanted to exclude funds for new deputies, drug court and pay raises, he said the county could avoid a tax increase.

“We’re exactly where we need to be right now,” Murray said.

Murray said Wednesday he thinks the county did a good job of designing a lean budget for fiscal year 2011-2012 despite a drop in revenue.

Board members said Wednesday they plan to meet this morning, as well, to discuss other budget issues.