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Board mulls budget

As the Pearl River County Supervisors face an Oct. 1 deadline for a new budget, supervisors spent six hours Thursday with a magnifying glass pouring over budget proposals.
“They didn’t hit us as hard as they have in the past,” District Three’s Larry Davis said, referring to the various line item budget requests. Davis wanted to leave those line items that were close to their previous requests basically alone and red flag others that were higher than last year for closer scrutiny.
Although most budget requests from various departments appear to be more in line with expectations of the supervisors, the board still has to look at trimming about $600,000 dollars to feel more comfortable with the budget as presented. If the budget requests were left as presented to the board, county administrator Adrain Lumpkin said the overall revenue for 2007 would be about that much short.
This prompted District Four Supervisor Robert Thigpen to say, “(We’ve) Got to cut; no ifs, ands, or buts.”
Thigpen particularly eyed the funding request for the Partners for Pearl River County, the group focused on economic development for the county.
“I’d like to see us redirect (that funding),” Thigpen said, commenting that the Chambers of Commerce of the two cities do more for overall economic development.
Partners was allocated $100,000 in funding last year and had the same amount figured for the upcoming budget. Thigpen wanted to set $25,000 for the Picayune Chamber of Commerce and $12,500 for the Poplarville chamber organization.
“I’m not going to vote for one cent of tax increase while we’re spending money on something that has not done anything for the county in three years. … I’ve told everybody in here that we’re not getting our money’s worth out of it … we get more out of the chamber’s of commerce of Picayune and Poplarville than we get out of that. …” Thigpen said. “There’s a couple of ‘em more in there (the budget) we can do. That one just stands out, glaring.”
Lumpkin said after an hour’s discussion the initial figures had been whittled down from $15,325,000 to approximately $14,600,000, which still reflects a 20 percent increase over last year’s budget. That figure would require a 4 mil additional tax. One mil generates approximately $250,000. Lumpkin told the board millage brings in about half of the county revenues. The remaining amounts are derived from fees, fines, grants, and such. The board learned that because of the storm, fee and fine collections have been down.
Supervisors say if there are departments that would require more funding during the year, the budget could be amended at a later date if necessary. Lumpkin says the revenues can be monitored from month to month to see how the budget is progressing.
“You keep everybody on a tight string to start with and they know what the got to do, they’ll watch it. But, if something happens, unexpectedly … you can put it (additional funds) back in,” Davis said.
The board also debated back and forth on the best way to allow for pay raises for county employees. Lumpkin presented figures to the board to factor in a five percent raise or a seven percent raise if the remainder of the budgets could be brought in line. When some budget requests were scrutinized though, a few of the department salary figures were eight percent or more.
He said several departments had some salary amounts figured into their budget projections, either because they anticipated adding more staff because of increased workloads. Supervisors thought the tax office was anticipating adding one more employee while the planning and code enforcement areas were expecting to need more. Lumpkin also said the county fixing to have to spend something for building maintenance. Some departments include repairs in their budgets, over and above the line item for building and grounds, Lumpkin said.
When the board began a line by line review after a short lunch break, a recap of revenue over the last three years showed the impact of hurricane Katrina. Several line items were down because of the impact of the storm. In their deliberations, supervisors also had to deduct the large amount of funds that poured into the county in the months after the storm.
Lumpkin told the board that after it was all said and done the county ended at about break even for 2005 with a storm adjusted cash balance at the end of the year of $589,000. In previous years the county has had greater cash balances to work with. He said the three months at the end of the year is “a lean period” and that $2 million is a good amount to have on hand to get the county throughout the end of the year until taxes start coming in at the beginning of the next year.
“That’s what our reserves used to be,” Lumpkin said.
One supervisor said the county really should have raised taxes last year but didn’t because of Katrina.
As District One Supervisor Anthony Hales said, “We had no wiggle room (in the 2006 budget). If we don’t do something to increase our revenue, … we can’t cut enough out of these budget requests to satisfy me without generating some more revenue.
“We just got to figure out how to close the gap,” Thigpen said. “And we know we’re going to have to go up on taxes some. There’s no choice on that, unfortunately.”
“I say we need to cut everywhere we can before we go up on taxes … and we are going to need a cushion,” Thigpen said.
Davis of all the supervisors, remained firm in his opposition to new taxes, while Hales reiterated he was going to do what was best for “his people” in District One whether that meant raising taxes or not.
Supervisors still have to deal with the road department because that is a separate funding area.
In other matters, the board:
—Voted 4-0 to advertise a noise ordinance for the county.
—Voted 5-0 to purchase two pothole patchers with mower attachment as per state contract pricing.
—Authorized acquisition of right-of-ways on West Union Road one and a half mile east of Gipson Crossroads.
—Voted 4-0 to change previous board minutes for private road name of Byrus Hurt Road to Ward Road.
—Voted 4-0 to advertise for a budget hearing.
The next meeting of the board is 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5, when further budget discussions will be held.