Supervisor describes ‘million dollar swing’ in county budget 5/19/2015

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Supervisor describes ‘million dollar swing’ in county budget

By John Howell
District Three Supervisor John Thomas said that the county’s cost for employees’ health insurance premiums has increased along with a mandated increase in the county’s contribution to Employees’ state retirement.

The increased costs came during the same period as the loss of ad valorem tax from the former LSP Energy generation plant.

“You throw those three factors in our budget and that’s about a million dollar swing there,” Thomas said, speaking during a recent meeting of the Batesville Exchange Club.

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Thomas spoke to Exchange members as part of a series where incumbent office holders are invited to speak about the duties of the offices to which they are seeking re-election.

“I was against paying the money to Earl Burdette; I think that’s just a waste of our money,” the District Three supervisor said, referring to announcement in April that the county had settled for $440,000 a wage and hour/wrongful termination lawsuit brought by a former county employee. The complaint had originally sought $1.2 million in damages.

Thomas was one of two supervisors who voted against the settlement.

“I think if we had gone to court, and that’s just my opinion and I’m just one out of five, I think we would have won,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that supervisors had cut back on the sheriff’s department budget and cut donations to “Panola Partnership and a lot of the other organizations … didn’t want to, but we got to …”

The supervisor said that the increase in health insurance premiums in recent years has cost the county $250,000 more annually, and the retirement contribution increase costs an additional $340,000 to $350,000 each year.

LSP Energy was bought from bankruptcy by South Mississippi Electric Power Association (SMEPA), a cooperative not subject to ad valorem taxation.

Thomas said that the loss of the generation station’s tax payments to the county and to the South Panola School District had been partially offset by voluntary donations from SMEPA.
“That can be cut out at any time,” Thomas said.

“We’ve bought fire trucks,” he said, naming county assistance to fire departments in Batesville, Sardis and Red Hill during his tenure in office.

“We really need to buy one every year, but, man, they’re expensive,” Thomas said.

“We’ve done everything we can to cut; the costs just keep going up every year,” he said.