Board approves two mill increase

Published 2:21 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A two mill ad valorem tax increase was approved by the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors, along with some budget cuts.

The increase will mean county homeowners will pay an additional $20 on a home assessed at $100,000, or $10 per mill.

Several cuts were made in the budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which was set at $14.7 million.

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By the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, supervisors projected at their last meeting, the county will spend $17.2, which means the board will have overspent this year’s budget of $16.1 million.

Board president Anthony Hales said the budget cuts and millage increase were needed because revenue collections have been on a decline, especially after Hancock County quit holding its inmates at Pearl River County’s jail.

While Hancock County is building its jail, expected to be complete by the end of the year, that county found other county jails that would hold inmates at a lower rate. Supervisor Patrick Lee said when Pearl River County offered to accept a lower rate for the inmates, Hancock County declined.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin and County Attorney Joe Montgomery said counties that house inmates in other jails typically send away the inmates they don’t want, including those who are unruly or who have a chronic illness. While an inmate is in jail, the county holding that inmate is responsible for the cost of providing health care.

A public hearing  was held on the budget before the board voted on it. Most of the residents in attendance were opposed to a tax increase, stating if they have to work with less money in their own budgets, government should do the same.

Hales said some county residents do not contribute to the county coffers, including renters and the retired who qualify for 100 percent homestead exemption.

Tax Assessor Gary Beech said about a third of this county’s homeowners, who are age 65 or older, qualify for homestead tax exemption on homes appraised at $75,000 or less. Homeowners in that age bracket with a home appraised at more than $75,000 are assessed taxes only on the amount of value in excess of $75,000.

To make up for the amount of taxes the county loses on the exemptions, Hales has proposed a one percent sales tax increase the county could collect. Implementation of that plan would require county residents to approve it in a referendum. If the voters did approve it, the county would have to go to the legislature for its approval, Hales said. He said the process could take a year or more.

One resident, Kim Torrence, said she is concerned with the amount of tax money used to capture and house criminals. Hales said $9 million of the general fund’s $14.7 million is used to run the jail and pay Sheriff’s Department employees. Torrence said with so many young people having children, they are not parenting responsibly. Parents need to be held accountable for their children, Torrence said.

“If we don’t get a handle on this, my property is not going to be worth anything anyway,” Torrence said.

Several attendees made suggestions of ways supervisors could cut the budget, including having quarterly meetings with department heads to ensure they are staying within budget. Supervisor Sandy Kane Smith said he plans to do just that and to see about purchasing consumable items, such as office supplies, in bulk.

After the board closed the public hearing, members voted on adopting the $14.7 million budget and two mill increase. Hales, Lee, Hudson Holliday and Joyce Culpepper voted for the budget and tax increase. Smith voted against it.

Supervisors also approved two appointments to Pearl River Community College’s board of trustees, Don Welch nominated by Lee and Gail Harris nominated by Holliday.

The board went into executive session to discuss pending litigation, but took no action after  returning to open session, Lumpkin said.

The board meets again it 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 26.