Supervisors begin new budget discussions

Published 1:38 pm Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Budget discussions in a budget workshop on Monday revealed the daunting task facing supervisors. Budget requests, mainly from elected officials, have pushed up the totals for the new fiscal 2012-13 year to $2 million over the current 2011-2012 $14.7 million budget.

Supervisors on Monday began hammering out the county’s 2012-2013 general fund budget, which they must finalize by Sept. 15 and adopt before Sept. 30. The new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. In the process, they will also set the new millage rate. After Monday’s two-hour session, they recessed to Monday at 9 a.m. to continue the budget workshop meeting.

Add to the budget requests an expected $800,000 tax shortfall, caused by declining property values, and supervisors face trimming $2.8 million off the projected new budget just to keep it even with last year’s budget and avoid a tax increase. A combination of increased department head requests, coupled with the decline in property values, is squeezing budget projections.

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A review of the general fund budget, handed out by County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin, shows the current 2010-2012 budget figure at $14.7 million, and a projected $16.8 million new 2012-2013 budget, generated by requests from department heads and funds allocated to various entities, for a difference of $2 million between the budgets. Add to that the $800,000 expected tax shortfall and you have a $2.8 million increase from the current budget to the projected new budget, which will take effect on Oct. 1 after being adopted.

Lumpkin indicated that the numbers issued on Monday are just working figures and will change before a new budget is settled on by the board.

“I don’t want to make an example of any department,” said Supervisor Anthony Hales, Sr., “but there’s no way we can fund these requests.”

Hales then addressed fellow supervisors.

“With the requests and tax shortfall we face, I don’t see where we can add anything for any department,” said Hales. “It’s not going to add up. I am not Einstein, but I know that it simply is not going to work and add up.”

After Sheriff David Allison, who was speaking to the board about his budget, said he wanted to add three new deputies, Hales replied, “I want to know the mindset of the board on generating additional revenue this year.” What Hales said he wanted to know was what is the board’s position on raising taxes.

Said Hales, “If we are not going to increase revenue, there’s no use of entertaining budgets that have increases in them. You know you are not going to have additional revenue, so what’s the use of just listening to budget presentations that have more added to them.”

Replied Supervisor Joyce Culpepper, “He’s got a point.”

Said supervisor and board president J. Patrick Lee, “What’s the will of the board? Do we entertain these proposals and requests and work through them, or do we decide right now that we are not going to entertain any increases?”

Said Supervisors Sandy Kane Smith, “Well, you know how I feel on a (tax) increase. But I still want to hear the departments. And I still want to go through it myself and line out what I think should be done. . .I am going to do like I did last year, go through it, and cut where I think it needs cutting. This is our first meeting, and I understand what Anthony is saying. I want to hear from department heads, but, as of right now, I am not in any mood to raise millage.”

Said Supervisor Dennis Dedeaux, “I echo what Sandy Kane said. But I would like to hear everyone’s proposal and work from that point.”

Said Culpepper, “We can and should hear what the department heads have to say.” Supervisors talked with Allison, Deputy Chancery Clerk Maria Burge, and tax assessor-collector Gary Beech on their budget proposals.

Sources have told the Picayune Item that Smith, Culpepper and Dedeaux hold the key to whether or not taxes are raised this year. Last year supervisors raised millage rates three mills.

To raise enough revenue to cover projected expenses and the tax shortfall, Lumpkin told supervisors that an additional millage rate of nine mills would have to be imposed.

About 15 residents attended the meeting and a few had conversations with supervisors.

Supervisors face three alternatives:  Cut deeply enough so that millage rates won’t have to be increased; raise millage rates; or a combination of both, slashing deeply and raising taxes.

Supervisors broke down funding requests it receives from elected officials and it amounted to $11 million. Lee said that left only $3 million to fund the rest of county government, if all of the funding increases from county officials are approved.

Supervisors went into an executive session to talk about a personnel matter, and recessed to Monday at 9 a.m. to continue budget discussions.