Supervisors anticipate cuts 8/8/2014

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 8, 2014

Supervisors anticipate cuts

By Rupert Howell

Panola supervisors discussed cutting both jail and sheriff’s department budget requests by $60,000 and Panola Partnership by $30,000 during a Wednesday meeting in Batesville.

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It’s the time of year Panola supervisors play the budgeting game. Maybe it’s more like a puzzle, but one thing for sure—it’s not fun.

Chief Deputy Chris Franklin was called to Wednesday’s meeting and asked three supervisors present, “Okay, where do you want us to cut?”

The original request was accompanied by a verbal request for five percent increase for department employees.

Supervisors have agreed that any across the board increase is unlikely for the coming year.

“It’s hard,” Franklin said while being questioned by supervisors.

“Yeah, we know,” Board President Kelly Morris assured the chief deputy.

Supervisors had earlier talked of decreasing the number of vehicles with Administrator Kelley Magee stating they numbered 80 if jail and Task Force vehicles are included.

Supervisors also wondered aloud why some employees who were not patrol deputies took vehicles home at night and suggested to Franklin that different shifts might try sharing vehicles to cut back costs.

Supervisors are holding special meetings weekly with department heads and the county’s administrator and Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock to talk through budgetary concerns and wishes. Last year’s results included a tax increase and a salary increase for county employees. 

Although a quorum of supervisors have verbally stated they would not support a tax increase, they are aware that school millage will most likely increase due to tax exemptions and other factors beyond local control.

Panola’s assessed property value has been stagnant due in part to tax-exempt South Mississippi Electric Power Association purchases of the former LS Power plant, valued at over $200 million in 2012.

The Mississippi Development Authority, Panola County, and GE agreed that a fee-in-lieu of ad valorem taxes in connection with a recent GE expansion where Panola County provided $4 million (one-half of the amount needed) to pay for a Tallahatchie Valley substation to serve GE and other area customers. 

The fee-in-lieu paid by GE plus any difference will now be used to pay off the general obligation bonds issued to fund that project.

Also GE Aviation received certain incentives for reaching and exceeding the $100 million investment and South Panola School District will not receive approximately $289,782 in local tax dollars that was previously received. That amount will have to be made up somewhere along with the amount previously budgeted from proceeds of the power plant’s payment.

South Panola District Superintendent Tim Wilder predicted the school district would hit the 55 mill cap that can be assessed for the school’s general fund. A tax shortfall note will also be assessed as will as other bonds and long-term indebtedness.

Wilder said the difference is being made through attrition of some positions and using funds previously set aside for capital projects. He earlier noted that no  new programs were being added that would that increase local millage.

The sheriff’s department asked for a five percent across the board raise for all employees but that’s not likely to happen according to District Three supervisor John Thomas.

“There’s no money out there and nowhere to get it from,” Thomas said after referring to last year’s three percent raise and tax hike.

Most of the supervisors agreed that an across the board salary increase was doubtful but when asked, District Two Supervisor Vernice Avant said, “I think we spend an awful lot of money on trucks and we put employees last.”

“Ms. Avant, I turned my truck in,” Board President Kelly Morris responded referring to the fact that three of five supervisors no longer drive county-owned vehicles.

Earlier in the meeting Thomas had passionately discussed an animal shelter funded partially by county funds and gave examples of citizens boarding stray  or unwanted animals until owners or homes could be found.

“We’ve talked about it and talked about it. We need to hire somebody and use inmate labor to keep it clean,” he said.

Morris chimed in stating, “We’re not even taking care of battered women and children as much as some are proposing for dogs.”

County employees are getting a $150 per month “benefit,” from the county in this budget. Magee reminded supervisors that health insurance increases will cost the county $150 per month or $1,800 per year per employee.

Income from car tags is also taking a “nose dive” according to Magee who stated, “People can’t afford new cars.”

She also mentioned that the Panola County Drug Task Force was losing $200,000 in funding. 

Some other areas facing cuts are Red Cross, Delta Council, Domestic Violence Project and House of Grace.

“We got to stop somewhere,” Thomas said.

Let’s just bow up,” Morris suggested.