PC Supervisors

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2008

Four supervisors oppose mill increase for roadwork

By Billy Davis
Four of five Panola County supervisors say they oppose an idea to raise taxes by one mill in order to fund summer road projects in their districts.

The Panolian contacted the five supervisors this week and polled them about the topic, since the five-man board is set to decide next Monday whether to raise the millage.  

“I’m not in favor of raising taxes, especially with the economy the way it is,” Supervisor Gary Thompson said earlier this week in a phone interview.

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Thompson’s opinion was echoed in separate interviews with supervisors James Birge, Robert Avant and Kelly Morris.

Only one county supervisor, Bubba Waldrup, said he reluctantly favors voting for the millage increase. The new funds would offset the spike in fuel prices that are affecting the road department, he said.

“I think we need it just to stay afloat, just to survive,” Waldrup said. “I know it’s not a good time to go up (on millage), but we’ve got to do something.”

The one-mill increase would add $10 in annual property taxes to a $100,000 home in unincorporated Panola County, said a spokesman with the county tax assessor’s office. The county office used the example of a home in the South Panola School District that had qualified for homestead exemption.

The one mill would be added to 2.58 mills county government currently uses to fund the seasonal roadwork.

Supervisors have said they were caught off guard when County Administrator David Chandler suggested the millage raise at a May 12 board meeting.

The county administrator had been asked to review budget numbers then recommend a borrowing amount, but he returned with news that a revolving loan used to fund summer road projects had been exhausted.

Chandler later told The Panolian that supervisors were unaware that he would recommend the tax increase.

Supervisors who were contacted this week sought to distance themselves from Chandler’s advice, pointing out that they have not agreed – nor will they – with the county administrator’s recommendation.

“Nobody’s said anything about raising taxes,” said Morris. “I am not going to vote to raise taxes.”

“There’s no decision yet,” said Avant, the board president. Pressed about his stance of adding a mill, he replied, “I’m not for it.”

In separate interviews, both Avant and Birge suggested they were willing to postpone road projects until Panola County government collects reimbursement funds from FEMA, which supervisors have said could bring in about $250,000.

Avant also said that the county will receive State Aid funds later in the summer.

Last year, supervisors budgeted $800,000 for various summer road projects but by summer’s end separate funds from the road department had been used to fund more roadwork. Those borrowed funds later had to be replaced.

The overspending led to finger pointing between road manager Lygunnah Bean and supervisors.

After two new supervisors took seats in January, the board has since agreed to focus summer roadwork on resurfacing paved roads, which is less costly than paving gravel roads. Supervisors were inching toward three options for the summer road projects, ranging in cost from $700,000 to $992,000, when Chandler surprised them with news of the millage increase.

Also reached this week, Chandler repeated his belief that raising the millage is supervisors’ only option.

“If they want to continue with the road program, that’s what they’ve got to do,” said Chandler. “If the program is important to the county, they have to increase the millage.”

Morris, now starting his first year in office, said District 4 constituents have been vocally opposed to raising the millage, even if that decision forces supervisors to skip a summer of roadwork.

“We can wait until we pay down the loan,” Morris said. “Right now it’s just not the right thing to do when people can’t hardly make it.”

Bean said this week he has been told by supervisors that raising the millage is “off the table.”

“I won’t even bring it up,” Bean said. “I’m not going to put it on the table if it’s going to raise taxes.”