County Budget Update

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 31, 2009



Next where-we-stand update could bring promising news

By Billy Davis

Last February, county supervisors sat down for a dose of bad news, when the board learned that overspending in previous years had sucked up the county’s cash balance.

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The purpose of that meeting was to “show where we stand,” reported County Administrator Kelley Magee at the time, who had prepared the gloomy figures for supervisors to review.

“And where we stand – I don’t think it looks very good,” she told the board.

The county administrator went on to explain that her own review of past budgets, which predated her hiring, showed a pattern of overspending had eroded funds that normally carry over from one fiscal year to the next.  

The then-most recent county budget, for 2007-2008, had overspent by $1.3 million, she said.

With a new year beginning today, Magee is preparing for another where-we-stand meeting with supervisors, this time with more promising figures.

“It would surprise me if we’re not in fairly good shape,” predicted board president Gary Thompson, citing cost-cutting efforts to ensure the county remains in the black.  

Specific figures weren’t ready by press time this week, “but one thing I can tell you is that we didn’t overspend,” Magee told The Panolian.

A close look at county finances could come as early as the Second District meeting on January 11, she said.

County tightened belt

The current recession has predictably hammered revenues for the county. With fewer new cars being purchased, Magee has estimated automobile tag revenue will drop 14 percent this year. She has also budgeted for a slowdown in mobile home taxes – as much as $800,000.

The county administrator has said she follows a budgeting axiom of figuring revenues low, and expenditures high, in order to ensure a financial cushion.

But Thompson said recent conversations with Magee, when she advised him of revenue figures, have been more promising than predictions made over the summer.

“Tax collections have come in better than we hoped,” he said.

Supervisors, responding to the worrisome forecast, have pledged to be fiscally conservative and asked county departments to watch their spending.

Figures reviewed at a July budget meeting showed that 21 county departments had spent less than the previous year while 14 departments had spent more.

The Board of Supervisors led that savings followed by the county airport and the sheriff’s department.

Other savings came from the county election commission, the chancery clerk and chancery clerk’s office, the constables’ budget, and the building and grounds budget.

At the budget meeting, figures for 2009 showed a savings of $987,609 over the previous year, The Panolian reported at the time.

A move this year to a new health insurance provider was expected to save more than $100,000 in the current fiscal year.

And the board passed its current budget without county pay raises – the second year to do so.

A pay raise could be forthcoming, however, after Panola County learned in December it would receive $326,043 as its share of the tax proceeds from Tri-Lakes Medical Center.

The county board has not discussed how – or if – to spend the tax proceeds, but some supervisors have acknowledged a county pay raise is a lingering issue.

Reappraisal boosts value

In addition to cost-cutting plans, Panola County government should realize an increase in revenue after the latest round of reappraisals in 2009.

Panola County now shows $220.8 million in total assessed value, said a spokesman for the county’s tax assessor/collector’s office. The newest figure is $30.1 million more than the 2005 reappraisal, which was $190.7 million.

That total is for real and personal properties, public utilities, mobile homes, and motor vehicles, said deputy tax assessor Sandra Copeland.

Any boost in revenue, even if it includes grumbling from taxpayers, would be welcome news for supervisors, since they entered the current fiscal year with only $107,000 in discretionary spending.

Supervisors have yet another reason to be informed of Panola County’s finances  – January marks the midway point of their current terms.