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School taxes will force millage rates up

Regardless of whether or not the Picayune City Council or the Pearl River County board of supervisors raises taxes, they are going up anyway for those in the Pearl River County and Picayune school districts, which have requested additional funding to help close budget deficits created by a bad economy and state budget cuts.

On Thursday during a supervisors’ budget workshop, County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin told supervisors that he had received requests from school districts in the county, what are called “net ad valorem tax request for operations” and “ad valorem tax requested for debt service.”

Pearl River County school board’s request is for an additional $292,270.64. Last year the budget for operations was $4.8 million. This year it’s $5.1 million.

Also the PRC board asked for millage to support $402,002.50 in general obligation bonds, $155,320.50 for a three-mill tax levy for debt service and $93,806.72 for a shortfall note covering last year’s shortage in the tax levy.

The shortfall note is new, and covers the difference between what the board expected to receive from its millage request last year and what it actually received. The general obligation bonds and three-mill debt service are on-going yearly expenses.

Lumpkin said it will take an additional 5.5 mill-levy in the Pearl River County School District to cover the requests from its school board.

A 5.5 mill levy will run about $200 extra a year on a home assessed at $200,000.

The PRC board manages the Pearl River Central system, which has schools at McNeill, Carriere and Burgetown. It has one of the largest school populations along with Picayune. Poplarville, Picayune, PRC and Lumberton line districts make up the four school districts in Pearl River County.

A small portion of the Lumberton line school district juts into northern Pearl River County from the Lumberton city limits, which is on the border between Pearl River and Lamar counties. The Lumberton school system is mostly inside Lamar County.

That school district asked for no additional millage this year, as did the Poplarville system.

Picayune’s request, which actually goes to the Picayune city council, for operations was for an additional $1 million. The operations budget for the new fiscal year is $9.2 million. Last year’s budget was $8.2 million. The Picayune school board also has to send the county a request because part of the municipal district extends into the county.

The Picayune board has no outstanding balance for general obligation bonds, but has a three-mill tax levy note of $256,634, a $130,245 shortfall note and another ad valorem tax request of $159,806 for a GED class.

The Picayune council will set the school and city millage rate as well as adopt the new city budget on Sept. 7, a city spokesperson said. The board of supervisors does the same thing prior to Sept. 15.

Supervisors on Monday discussed the 2010-11 fiscal year county budget which they must have in place by Sept. 15, so it can be adopted prior to Oct. 1. Supervisors discussed a wide range of topics on Thursday, from furloughs, to cell phones, county trucks issued to employees and health policy issues.

Supervisors noted during their discussions that by law they must approve what the county’s school boards request.

Supervisors took steps to tighten its budget by passing a resolution asking Lumpkin to monitor more closely department budgets to make sure that no one goes on any end-of-the-fiscal-year spending sprees.

In addition, supervisors said they would inventory cell phones and review who is issued one to make sure that they need it in their work assignment. Supervisor Anthony Hales said the cell phone bill for the county runs between $5,000 and $6,000 a month.

On health issues, the board voted to adopt a new policy on personnel health policies to have county employees pay $20 per month for coverage out of their own pockets and to increase from $20 to $25 the co-pay and from $100 to $200 the emergency room deductible. The changes are expected to save the county about $100,000 annually on its health insurance expenses.

The board heard from Bettie Cashion, secretary-treasurer of the SPCA, which manages the animal shelter in Picayune, say that the shelter is asking for five percent less this year than last year because the shelter has acquired several new grants and that shelter officials recognize that the county is under heavy financial pressure with its new budget.

The SPCA would receive about $38,000 in the new fiscal year. The shelter’s county funded budget for this year is $40,000.

Lumpkin, at the budget hearing on Thursday of last week, had suggested adding an additional one mill tax levy and cutting all departments across-the-board by five percent, but on Thursday, a suggestion was made to make a funds transfer of $300,000 and cut departments by varying percentages. The board did that because for some small departments, a five percent cut would devastate the department, officials said.

When supervisors started budget discussions, expected revenues were running $1 million below projected expenses.

On Thursday, after tweaking the budget, there was $15.9 million in revenue and $15.7 million in projected expenditures. Supervisors and Lumpkin emphasized that the current figures are not “set in stone,” that they are preliminary and could change daily.

Supervisors plan to meet again on Monday at 9 a.m. in the Chancery Court building on Julia Street behind the old main courthouse. The budget will continue to be examined and discussed, said Lumpkin.

He said that a finalized version of the budget will be advertised for a public hearing, and after public input is gathered, the budget will be finalized and adopted, probably on Sept. 14.

On Thursday there were four residents attending the budget hearing: Donna Kenezvich and her husband, Cashion and Jeff Smith.

Supervisor Patrick Lee was absent. He was out-of-town.