Board: ‘no’ to county request
By John Howell
A request by the Panola County Board of Supervisors that the City of Batesville help pay for the cost of providing county ambulance service found no support from Batesville’s mayor and aldermen during discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of city officials.
At a city budget meeting in August Supervisor board president Cole Flint presented the city with a written request for support. During Monday’s supervisor board meeting, supervisors voted to ask Mayor Jerry Autrey to attend their next meeting for a response.
Autrey brought the request to aldermen for input at Tuesday’s meeting.
City aldermen said that city taxpayers, who also pay county taxes, would be double-taxed for the ambulance service.
“I’m paying city taxes; I’m paying county taxes,” Alderman Teddy Morrow said. “Out of my county taxes comes the ambulance service. Well, now you’re going to tell me that out of my city taxes I’m going to pay for ambulance service too? … So I’m paying twice.”
City officials also cited the value of ad valorem-tax-generating commercial and residential property inside Batesville corporate limits and city-funded infrastructure that facilitates construction of new homes, adding to the county’s assessed valuation on which ad valorem taxes are levied.
“Blake, how much is it costing us to put that stuff in for the subdivision you were asking about while ago?” Morrow asked city engineer Blake Mendrop, using as an example the street, water and sewer service being extended to the edge of properties under development in Cypress Point Subdivision off Eureka Road.
Mendrop said the city’s cost is about $25,000.
“That’s $25,000 that the city’s spending, and when those seven houses get built over there, minimum, the county will get $30,000 a year out of that. The county will, and they haven’t spent a quarter,” Morrow said. “We’ll get a little bit (for) the city,” Morrow said.
David Jones, the city’s auditor, said that the State Audit Department had told him, “you’d have to be careful because the city can’t pay for services out in the county and that we would inadvertently be paying for county services if we did that.”
“If we’re already paying one time through taxes and the city is providing additional money, we are supplementing the county,” Jones said.
The CPA acknowledged a claim by county officials that 60 percent of ambulance calls came from within Batesville city limits. “But I would bet that more than 60 percent of the tax base is in the city,” he said.
“We cannot be supplementing county services because the city people are already paying for that service through their county taxes,” Jones continued.
Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar provided an alternative suggestion during the latter part of the ambulance-funding discussion.
“They need an ambulance at the hospital. Since they’re not paying taxes, maybe they would consider coming up with some money so that one of the ambulances would remain stationed at the hospital,” Azar said.
Curae Health Inc., a non-profit hospital corporation and thus exempt from ad valorem taxes, acquired the local hospital earlier this year from Community Health Systems, Inc., a for-profit corporation that paid ad valorem taxes. Ad valorem tax collections for the county, school and city were reduced by approximately $336,000 annually as a result of the acquisition.