County budget hearings set for today and next week

Published 12:14 am Thursday, September 6, 2012

NATCHEZ — Adams County residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on a leaner county budget that still includes raises for employees tonight.

The first of the county’s two public hearings for the budget will be 5:30 p.m. at the supervisors’ office. The second hearing will be 9 a.m. next Thursday.

Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said the board has two public hearings in order to accommodate the public.

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“I will open the hearing and then turn it over to (County Administrator Joe Murray), and Joe more or less walks through the budget,” Grennell said. “At that point I entertain any questions the public may have.

“We try our best to accommodate everybody, so there is no format for how long the meeting is going to last.”

The county is currently operating on a $25,249,476 budget. The proposed budget for 2013 is $22,543,849, down $2.7 million from the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The final budget includes an increase in ad valorem millage, which will increase residents’ taxes, that was passed by the Natchez-Adams County School District. Though the supervisors have to officially approve the milllage increase request from the school district, they are not allowed to decline a tax increase levied by the school district.

The total millage will increase from 112.71 mills to 114.27 mills because of the school district increase.

The millage levied by the supervisors will remain the same. That tax rate will fund $9,578,789 of the supervisors’v budget.

Murray has previously said the change in millage would mean an increase of approximately $15 annually on a tax bill for a homeowner with a property valued at $100,000. If the owner claims homestead exemption on the property, the increase would be $4.

“Basically, the only reason the millage is increasing is because of the school district, but the county’s has not changed at all, so I don’t know of anything that would be noteworthy of anybody coming out,” Grennell said.

Supervisors Vice President Mike Lazarus said he is not expecting a large crowd because the board will not be increasing taxes.

Lazarus said it was noteworthy that the supervisors were able to plan for a year-end cash balance and give eligible county employees 5-percent raises. Elected officials and employees in the county clerks’ offices would not get the raises because they are paid through fees generated by those offices, he said.

This is the first raise county employees have gotten in five years.

“If they haven’t given a raise in five years, and they are only getting a 5- percent raise, that’s a 1-percent raise a year,” Lazarus said. “That’s not even keeping up with cost-of-living raises.”

The county has spent the last year finding ways to cut excess out of the budget, Lazarus said, including finding ways to cut back on overtime and reworking some maintenance contracts.

“We pretty much cut all the fat out of the budget,” he sad. “There is not a lot of big things you can cut unless it is whole departments, and we even looked at that.”

During budget discussions, the supervisors had considered closing the juvenile justice detention center, but ultimately decided to keep it open after Murray and Youth Court Judge John Hudson met and were able to find ways to reduce some costs. The cost reductions were coupled with a decision to restructure how having the Adams County Sheriff’s Office operate it runs the detention.

The final decision for and adoption of the budget will come after the public hearing at the Sept. 13 meeting.