County officials tell supervisors they favor tax increase to close budget gap

Published 1:01 pm Thursday, August 23, 2012

Late Wednesday, supervisor and president of the board of supervisors J. Patrick Lee named five elected Pearl River County officials that he said came before the board, endorsed a tax increase, and told the board they would back a rise in millage to support the new budget. Asked who they were, Lee named Sheriff David Allison, Circuit Court Clerk Vickie Hariel, Chancery Clerk David Earl Johnson, tax assessor-collector Gary Beech, Justice Court Judge Donald Fail and county coroner Derek Turnage.

Asked how much supervisors plan to raise millage rates, Lee said that so far that has not been decided. Asked if he had the votes on whether or not to raise taxes, he said he was not sure of that either.

“We have cut and are cutting as much as we can. These elected officials said they have cut as much as they can. They have decided, and those who have looked at it, feel that an increase in millage is necessary to support the budget. There is a level of services we must maintain in the county,” said Lee.

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Lee referred to the Wednesday afternoon session that took place after an executive session. The board reconvened and continued to work on the budget Wednesday afternoon in an open session, after holding a regular open morning session on Wednesday.

Sources earlier had told the Picayune Item that the board did not have the votes to increase taxes despite what other officials wanted. If supervisors raise millage rates, they will join school boards in upping millage to support budgets that have been hit hard by declining property values that are producing less revenue per mill levied as compared to last year. Their choices are to slash the budget, raise millage rates, or do both.

Hence, the pressure is on officials to up millage rates.

Supervisors plan to meet again on Friday, Aug. 24, and must have the budget and millage rates in place before Saturday, Sept. 15, when the budget will be adopted to go into effect on Monday, Oct. 1.

Citizens in a town hall meeting on June 19 at the Link in Picayune urged supervisors to cut, and a group of citizens led by political activist Donna Knezevich have urged supervisors to make what some have called “drastic, tough” cuts. It remains to be seen what will happen.

In another budget matter, Pearl River County Library Director Linda Tufaro, appearing before supervisors on Wednesday morning, thanked them for restoring a portion of her fourth quarter support, or $25,000.

In another funding discussion, a state health department official told the board that it would be “extremely serious,” if the county cut its health department contributions.

Tufaro said that the $25,000 refund would bridge a September-October gap, allowing the library at Poplarville and Picayune to remain open until other funding from the state arrives during the November-to-December time frame.

Supervisors on June 23 cut the entire fourth quarter appropriation to the library system, or $50,000. On Aug. 6, supervisors restored a portion of the appropriation by refunding $25,000 to the library system. Tufaro earlier had said she was only weeks away from closing the doors completely until the $25,000 appropriation came in.

The partial refunding of the library was done in conjunction with restoration of some funding to a senior citizens feeding program and cancellation of county employee furloughs by supervisors.

After the June 23 cut, Tufaro cut back on operations in Poplarville to two days per week and in Picayune to three.

On Wednesday, supervisor Anthony Hales, Sr., quizzed Tufaro on her funding, and then asked County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin, Jr., if the county would be able to refund the other $25,000 to Tufaro before Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Lumpkin looked at some figures, and told Hales, “No, not at this time.”

Said Hales, “Contrary to what people thought, we were never anti-library. We did what we had to do, and if there is anyway to restore it, I am all for it.”

Replied Tufaro, “I greatly appreciate anything you can do for us. It’s greatly appreciated by my staff, but not only them, but also by the people you and the library serve. We serve the same people.” Tufaro is asking the board for a $202,000 appropriation for the new budget year, the same amount requested last year.

Picayune contributes about $164,000 a year based on a 2-mill levy dedicated to the library and Poplarville kicks in $24,000 a year, said Tufaro.

In another budget matter, supervisors talked with David Caulfield, district 9 administrator, Miss. Health Dept. The county health department at Carriere falls under his supervision.

Hales asked Caulfield what would be the ramifications if the county did not fund the health department its share. The county puts in about 11 percent of the county health department budget of $1.1 million, or $151,374. The state kicks in $619,236, and $378,792 is generated from fees and third-party earnings.

Caulfield said the impact of the county stopping funding would be “extremely serious.”

He said it would jeopardize immunizations, health service out of the department at Carriere, health inspections, and other programs. For instance, WIC comes through the agency.

Said Caulfield, “The department provides core public health functions through various clinical, disease control and environmental health programs. . .On average we make over 4,350 patient and client contacts per month in Pearl River County. . .”

Caulfield said the department was making a request of $151,374, this year, the same request as last year.

Supervisors went into executive session to discuss matters involving litigation, and reconvened on Wednesday afternoon to continue working on the budget. They plan to meet again onFriday, Aug. 24, at 9 a.m.