County, city and school boards eye millage rates.

Published 12:47 pm Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pearl River County supervisors, the county’s three school districts and two cities — Poplarville and Picayune — have over the past few weeks, and will over the coming weeks, be juggling figures and racking their brains, trying to piece together workable budgets and set tax millage rates in the face of tax revenues that have fallen because of shrinking property values.

It’s the proverbial task of fitting a square peg in a round hole.

Picayune and Poplarville almost have their budgets wrapped up prior to adoption on Sept. 4, but supervisors won’t complete and adopt their budget until Sept. 15., when, at the same time, they will set millage rates for Poplarville and PRC school boards.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The PRC and Poplarville school boards have sent their money requests in and are waiting to see what millage the county will have to set to generate the funds requested.

Falling property values, which some officials say is the worst drop they have ever seen, have thrown a monkey-wrench into budget deliberations by officials this year, and have officials eyeing raising millage rates to make up for a shortfall in projected revenues. A mill this year won’t generate the same amount of money as last year’s mill when applied to current property values because property values have fallen. Hence, it will take more millage to generate the same amount of money as last year.

A list of private property delinquent county taxes appeared in Thursday’s Poplarville Democrat, filling 30 pages. Delinquent properties listed in the Sun Herald for Harrison County on Friday covered 86 pages. Officials said they have never seen that many before. If not paid, the properties will be sold at auction at the courthouse. The Great Recession has impacted everyone and everything, especially property values.

The Picayune proposed school millage hike brought protests from some citizens who say they will be at a Picayune City Council tax hearing on Tuesday at 5 p.m., called to hear public comments and input on the proposed millage rates for the City of Picayune and the Picayune school board. The City Council will meet at 3 p.m. for a budget workshop and then at 5 p.m. for the tax hearing and council meeting.

The Picayune school board request of $8.2 million is essentially asking for a 9.45 mill increase to generate $8.2 million in local revenue to support its new budget, the same amount of money it received last year. That will push up millage rates from the current 60.25 mills to 69.70 mills to support the school board’s budget.

School boards don’t request a millage rate. They request an amount of money. Then the taxing authorities — the Picayune City Council and the board of supervisors — set the millage rates, collect the taxes for the school boards and transfer the money to them.

Even though the Picayune City Council and board of supervisors set the millage rates, they can’t change or reject the amount of money the school boards ask for. Two years ago, when the Hattiesburg City Council tried to lower a request from the Hattiesburg school district, the school sued the city, and the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school board and told Hattiesburg’s council it had to give the school board what it asked for, according to the court’s interpretation of state law.

Mayor Ed Pinero, Jr., said the Sept. 4 vote on the school millage rate by the council will be only an acknowledgment of what the school board has requested, not necessarily actually meaning the council approves of the rate. At least two councilmen have told the Picayune Item they are contemplating voting no on the school budget request as a protest. A city official also said that three of the five-member school board members have been asked to attend the hearing.

Some Picayune school board officials maintain the millage increase is not a tax hike because the same amount of money is being requested by the district as last year, not more, although individual tax bills will vary.

Some say it is a tax increase because it eliminates what would have been lower taxes for some if the millage rate had remained the same. The Picayune school board vote on the request to the council was split 3-2 in favor of requesting the same amount of money. For instance, if your property valuation has not increased, you should pay the same amount of money in taxes as last year and not experience an increase.

Pearl River County school district at Carriere asked the board of supervisors for the same amount of money it received last year, $5.5 million, and Poplarville did the same, requesting $4.4 million. A source close to the board of supervisors said that it’s estimated a five-mill increase in millage rates in the Poplarville school district and the Pearl River County school district will have to be implemented to give the school boards the amount of funds the two boards requested for local support. Figures and rates can fluctuate, however, officials said.

The board of supervisors will set county taxes and schools taxes on Sept. 15. The board also will schedule a public hearing on the proposed tax millage rates before the Sept. 15 decision day. The county’s fiscal year runs Oct. 1, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2013. The schools districts’ fiscal year runs July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013.

Concerning the board of supervisors’ budget, supervisors face deciding whether or not to reject or partially accept $2 million extra in new budget requests from department heads over last year’s requests, and to absorb an $800,000 shortfall in expected revenue caused by falling property values. In other words, If supervisors cut budget requests to last year’s figure, they still face cutting $800,000 out of last year’s $14.7 million budget to enable them not to raise taxes. If supervisors accepted all the increases proposed on the table, the new budget would be $16.8 million.

Picayune City Council is offering taxpayers a true tax break. Last year local support was $2.1 million. This year the council reduced it to $1.9 million, or a $200,000 cut in the general fund budget. Therefore, the council is setting the millage rate for the new fiscal year at the same as last year, or 38.66 mills.

In Poplarville, the board of aldermen are expected to hold some workshops before holding a public hearing on Sept. 4 before adopting a new budget and setting a millage rate the same day. A source close to the board said aldermen were trying not to increase millage. Aldermen meet on Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Poplarville City Hall at Mississippi Highways. 26 and 53.

Supervisors meet on Monday at 9 a.m. in Poplarville at the Chancery Court Annex on Julia Street.