Supervisors may look to tax increase, coupled with cuts, to balance county’s budget

Published 9:40 am Wednesday, August 16, 2023

NATCHEZ — At the final day of county budget hearings Tuesday, two supervisors brought up their willingness to support a property tax increase.

The county’s Board of Supervisors learned recently about a number of discrepancies and concerns within the county’s budget.

Chuck Lambert, with whom the county recently contracted to help it through the planning of a budget for the fiscal year 2023-24, discovered shortfalls and oddities in the current county budget while doing his work, which will impact the budget for the coming year.

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During the final budget hearing, which involved the budget of the county’s road department, Road Manager Robbie Dollar asked about raises for employees of his department.

District 5 Supervisor Warren Gaines, who is board president, said raises for any department would be difficult.

“We are in a situation we have not been in since I’ve been here,” Gaines said. “I don’t want to say no, but I’m definitely not going to tell you yes.”

Dollar reminded supervisors about the many ways his department employees save the county money by doing jobs themselves that in the past or in other places have been contracted out.

“We just paved 96 roads and came out of that half a million to the good. Look at the striping project. It’s a lot we do to save the county money. I question everything we spend,” Dollar said.

Gaines and other supervisors responded, telling Dollar they are aware of the importance of his department.

“You are the one department we can’t do without,” responded District 2 Supervisor Kevin Wilson.

District 4 Supervisor Ricky Gray said he is willing to support a tax increase.

“If it comes down to it to take care of our employees, I’m willing to raise taxes,” Gray said.

“I’m like Supervisor Gray. I know taxes have not been raised in over 12 years. We can’t continue to operate without people not paying a tax increase,” said District 3 Supervisor Angela Hutchins.

Middleton said the current budget woes did not happen overnight.

“They didn’t even happen in the last two years,” he said. “Everything has gone up. People are willing to pay $4 a gallon for gas and $30 for a meal for three people at McDonald’s, but they holler if their ditches aren’t cleaned out. But they aren’t willing to pay any more for those ditches to be cleaned.”

Supervisors each said they will take a hard and difficult look at each county department’s budget and will make decisions after they receive “hard numbers,” which they expect to get from Lambert by Monday’s 9 a.m. board meeting.

Gaines said supervisors should have a budget set and decisions made by Friday, Aug. 25, to meet its budget timeline.

The State of Mississippi puts limits on how much of a tax increase supervisors can levy without getting approval from voters in an election.

“Your property taxes are looking at an increase right now in dollars — not millage — of $1.9 million across operational funds based on this budget. The fact of the matter is you can’t legally do that kind of increase because your cap in operational levies is 10 percent of what you collected last year,” Lambert told supervisors on Monday. “Last year, you collected a little over $14 million, so the most you can levy for is an increase of $1.4 million.”

Even if supervisors vote to increase millage to levy the entire $1.4 million, Lambert said they would need an additional $500,000 — through cuts or a tax increase — to balance the 2023-2024 budget.

County Attorney Scott Slover said any increase in taxes would require the county to advertise that in the county’s newspaper of record, The Natchez Democrat, and hold a public hearing on the proposed increase.