PC Mill increase

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Public understood we faced hard choices, say supervisors

By Billy Davis

After a dozen hours of budget talk, the reality came down to this: too much county and not enough money.

“It was something we had to do and no way to get around it,” Supervisor Bubba Waldrup said of the board’s approval of a five-mill increase for the new fiscal year.

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Readers of The Panolian learned last Friday of the millage increase, the first in several years, and also learned school millage in the South Panola School District will rise 2.88 mills. 

The millage increase will be added to the county’s 57.21 mills that fund county offices, the road department, ambulance service, public libraries, and Northwest Community College among other recipients.

The board of supervisors will hear public comments then adopt the budget at a September 11 meeting.

A public notice published in today’s newspaper publicizes the budget hearing as well as county millage rates and school millage rates.

The millage rate determines the amount of ad valorem taxes on real property as well as automobile tags, commercial fixtures and equipment.

Beginning with their first budget meeting on August 14, supervisors pressed Administrator David Chandler and his successor, Kelley Magee, to hack away at the budget.

Chandler at first told supervisors they could approve a three-percent raise, rather than a five-percent raise, for county employees. But he returned at the next budget meeting to announce that even the three-percent raise would require a millage increase.

After hearing that news, Waldrup then suggested “zero,” and supervisors Gary Thompson and Kelly Morris seconded the idea.

Chandler and supervisors also demanded cuts from the county’s two largest departments, the sheriff’s department and the road department respectively.

When supervisors wrapped up their budget meetings last week, road manager Lygunnah Bean warned his bosses that he would end the fiscal year with little wiggle room.

“I’m going to have just $23,000 left in my bridge account,” he told the board.

Chandler informed the board that Sheriff Hugh “Shot” Bright had agreed to purchase a helicopter and sidearms for deputies from seized drug funds rather than his department budget.

While Bright said he understood supervisors’ difficult choices, “I just hope we’ve got enough to make it through the year,” he told The Panolian.

Even after supervisors hinted at a coming millage increase, they said most constituents understood the financial condition of the county.

First-term Supervisor Gary Thompson said few people voiced concern over the increase, but he had a ready response for those who complained.

“The word I used was ‘subsidizing.’ The county had been using hospital money until that ran out,” Thompson said, referring to the sale of Tri-Lakes Medical Center.

The former board used the proceeds from the sale of Tri-Lakes in the road department. 

According to Waldrup, most people who are paying attention understand the financial situation.

“Most people knew it was crunch time,” he said.