County OKs property tax increase for new budget year

Published 3:52 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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NATCHEZ — By unanimous vote, the Adams County Board of Supervisors voted to increase property taxes by 9.27 mills in order to balance the county’s budget in fiscal year 2023-2024.

County Attorney Scott Slover said that amounts to approximately $23.18 additional per year in ad valorem taxes on a house with a $100,000 homestead valuation.

Chuck Lambert, a former Pike County administrator and supervisor who the county contracted with to lead this year’s budget work in absence of a county administrator in Adams County, said expense cuts and the tax increase is necessary before of increases in employee retirement costs, health insurance and solid waste collection fees during the coming fiscal year.

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Lambert said the county’s contribution to the state employee pension plan, known as PERS, would increase by 2 percent each of the next three years. He also said the county’s costs for employee health insurance premiums are increasing by 50 percent.

Lastly, the county signed a new garbage collection contract that will cost the county an additional $900,000 per year and that cost will increase by approximately 5 percent each of the six years of the contract.

Lambert said supervisors have approved about $800,000 in budget cuts, in addition to the tax increase.

One employee will reduce the county’s business office as it absorbs the duties of the human resources manager, saving about $100,000 per year. Also, five members of the janitorial staff will be eliminated and the county plans to contract out those services, saving about $100,000 per year, Lambert said.

And, Sheriff Travis Patten is cutting his staff by 10 employees — from 75 to 65 people — as the county contracts with Concordia Parish to house inmates and works to close the county jail. The net amount of cuts in the sheriff’s office is expected to amount to approximately $600,000.

District 4 Supervisor Angela Hutchins said it has been about 20 years since the county has increased its ad valorem or property taxes.

District 1 Supervisor Kevin Wilson said he would like to see more cuts, calling the expense cuts Lambert outlined as just a start.

“I think we should have cut double that amount,” Wilson said.

Board President Warren Gaines said supervisors looked at making a 10 percent across the board cut in each county department, but that wasn’t feasible in some departments, such as the road department and others, who operate with only one person.

“Some departments are flat statutory, like courts, and in some cases, if you cut 10 percent, you would eliminate the entire department,” Gaines said.

“During the year, we will have to pick and choose other cuts to make,” Wilson said.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s budget hearing, Paul Brown took exception with the statement that taxes have not been increased for 20 years.

“Our taxes are raised every time assessments are increased,” Brown said.

Brown said the number of taxpayers in Adams County is shrinking, which puts an added burden on those who remain.

“Who is going to be left to turn off the lights,” Brown asked.

Wilson said statistics indicate the county’s population is stabilizing, but it is clear spending is out of control.

“If we had outsourced the jail three years ago, we would have about $3 million now to start with,” he said, referring to the need to construct a new jail.

“We have something happening now with someone looking into what federal grant money is available,” Wilson said, referring to a citizen group being led by Debbie Hudson Germany to explore options and financing for a potential new jail facility down the road.

Wilson also noted the added financial burden placed on the sheriff’s office by Sixth District Attorney Shameca Collins, who has refused to seize assets forfeited by drug dealers since taking office.

“She thinks that’s not right, I guess,” Wilson said.

Chief Deputy Shane Daugherty said those forfeited funds amounted to about $100,000 per year for the sheriff’s office, which was used to help fund the county’s narcotics and K-9 units.

Gaines said the decision to increase taxes has been the toughest of his three years in office.

“It has effected my health,” he said.

State Sen. Melanie Sojourner attended the county’s public hearing and reminded supervisors, “If you want to stifle the economy, raise taxes.”

Sojourner also said, “As you know, the state is flush with money right now.” She said a case should be made for returning some of that money to the county level.

District 1 Supervisor Wes Middleton said the county’s current financial issues did not happen overnight. He also said more cuts would be made in the county’s department as the year progresses.