By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – Supervisors approved a proposed budget that will include a tax increase after almost four hours of number crunching last Wednesday during a recessed meeting held at the Water Valley courthouse.
The increase will bring in just under a quarter-million dollars more in local tax dollars in the coming fiscal year, $4,733,666 from ad valorem taxes in 2017-18, compared $4,462,156 the county is budgeted to collect in the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
During Wednesday’s deliberations the millage rate was actually lowered from 86.15 mills to 84.50 mills with the proposed budget. But the assessed value of the county’s land and personal tax rolls increased 5,395,496 following a mandated reappraisal year, which means the lower millage rate will still bring in more tax money.
The discussion created dissension among supervisors during the meeting as District 3 Supervisor Lee McMinn pushed not to lower the millage rate and collect more taxes. District 5 Supervisor Gaylon Gray was adamantly against the tax increase, favoring lowering the millage rate enough to offset the higher value of property in the county and generating level funding for the coming year. In the end, the $271,510 increase was unanimously approved as a compromise between the opposing views as the millage rate was reduced, but not enough for level funding for the coming fiscal year.
One reason for a portion of the increase was the requested budget increases. The most hefty request, which was also granted Wednesday, came from Yalobusha Health Services in the amount of $90,000 to offset losses experienced from operating the county’s ambulances. Most counties in the state subsidize the expense of operating ambulances, whether the service is provided by a third-party company or through a county-owned hospital.
Other budget requests authorized included a $50 monthly raise for the county’s full-time employees (minus deputies who received a raise last year) and $30,000 for the county library system following an urgent plea from Yalobusha Public Library System Director Patty Bailey for more operating money for the libraries in Oakland and Coffeeville.
Even with these requests, the total additional money needed for the coming year was tallied at around $120,000, as the budget also reflected cuts in other areas including a decrease in the price of providing health insurance for county employees.
“We are gonna need it,” Lee McMinn stressed repeatedly during the conversation, pointing to repairs needed at the courthouses as one example. “We spent $5 million on these courthouses. It is our responsibility to maintain them,” Lee McMinn continued. “The quicker you fix it, the less you will spend.”
“I pay taxes on four houses and 240 acres of land, I don’t mind,” Lee McMinn continued as he stressed leaving the millage rate the same and collecting more taxes. He also pushed successfully to bump Bailey’s request for the libraries from $20,000 to $30,000, citing numerous pleas from Bailey for more money to keep from reducing the already-reduced operating hours for the two libraries.
“I am saying the assessed value went up, so leave the millage the same,” McMinn said.
“Every time you put a mill on it is never taken off,” Gray countered, noting the millage rate needs to be rolled back.
After calculating the total cost of the requests approved in the meeting, the discussion returned to how much tax money is needed in excess of requested needs.
Part of this discussion included the scrutiny of existing surplus in the county’s general fund account.
“You could do everything you wanted to and hit the general fund and it would never feel it,” Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn noted about utilizing the county’s surplus money.
“That is a little over $2 million,” Gray added.
“If you leave those mills on, they are going to be here by the droves in November when that tax bill hits,” Amy McMinn noted.
In the end, Board President Cayce Washington proposed splitting the difference between the opposing views.
“I have to protect the county side a little bit, our cash reserves,” Washington said, explaining that he would be in favor of finding a balance, which meant collecting more money than the budget requests to have some surplus, but not leaving the millage rate the same as Lee McMinn initially suggested.
“Oh no,” Tax Assessor/Collector Linda Shuffield said following Washington’s input.
“We are good on that,” Amy McMinn reiterated, referring to not needing to add more to the county’s cash reserves.
“I want a cushion,” District 2 Supervisor Ken Rogers said, weighing in on the tax increase.
“It will protect us in the future years. We have ambulance concerns,” Washington added. “Let’s go with that.”
“Politics is always about compromise,” Lee McMinn said, noting that he would go with Washington’s proposal.
The public is invited to comment on the budget on Tuesday, Sept. 5, at 9 a.m. in the boardroom in the Coffeeville courthouse.