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County could budget more for roads, EMCC

 

County administrator Ralph Billingsley

County administrator Ralph Billingsley

 

 

Nathan Gregory

 

Lowndes County revenues are projected to increase by more than $6 million in the upcoming fiscal year, based on the budget county supervisors will consider later this week. 

 

The proposed budget would allocate some of those extra resources to East Mississippi Community College for its capital improvements campaign, to the county road department to help pave more roads and to pay a debt service for infrastructural upgrades west of the Golden Triangle Regional Airport, county administrator Ralph Billingsley said.  

 

The county is now operating with a projected total budget revenue of $33,442,777, which includes $14,501,573 in ad valorem taxes. Under the proposed budget for next year, $16,571,071 in ad valorem taxes would finance an overall budget of $39,938,335. 

 

Supervisors will hold a public hearing Friday to provide an opportunity for input and then consider the proposed budget themselves. 

 

If the budget is approved as it is now, EMCC will receive a $439,000 more next year through a $325,000 commitment and an additional $114,000 with mill values increasing, Billingsley said.  

 

The debt service on the money the county borrowed to upgrade infrastructure near GTRA begins next year. Those funds were borrowed to help lure more industry to the county in the long term, he said. Beginning in 2014, the county will be paying back about $500,000 a year. 

 

Property taxes are calculated with mills. One mill is worth one-thousandth of a dollar. For example, if the millage rate is 20 mills, a property owner pays $20 for every $1,000 of assessed value on his or her property. The assessed value of a property is the appraised value multiplied by the assessment ratio (10 percent for residential properties). The owner of a property appraised for $100,000 in this example would owe $200 in taxes. 

 

Municipalities, counties and school districts each establish their own millage rates to meet budgetary needs.  

 

One reason why the county stands to see a higher revenue is because the value of a mill is increasing and because Caledonia Generating's 10-year fee-in-lieu agreement with the county has ended, meaning the plant will now play full ad valorem taxes instead of a third, Billingsley said. 

 

"We've got land. We've got water. We've got sewer. We've got rail spurs. We've got everything these big industries need to come in and build a facility," Billingsley said. "The board was proactive and we bought a bunch of land and we put it in the infrastructure to handle some more industry out there, but along with that comes debt service." 

 

An additional $500,000 is going to roads that have been compromised as a result of wintry conditions and excess rain over the past two years, he said. 

 

 

 

Vacant job positions under review 

 

Billingsley said he has not come to the board in recent months to recommend filling job vacancies, including the community services coordinator and in the emergency management and inventory departments because he's still evaluating the efficiency of the county's operations as a whole to get a better idea of how many extra people will actually be needed. 

 

"I will make recommendations as I think we need to fill those positions. We're saving those payroll dollars right now and we've probably saved $75,000 this year by not immediately filling those vacancies," Billingsley said. "We have spread those responsibilities around to other people in the department and we're handling that fine right now. At some point I will make recommendations on some or all of those positions, but right now we're not." 

 

An option may include combining duties of two jobs into one position, he said.  

 

"As we've had these openings we've analyzed whether we need to fill them right now. I've said no, we do not need to. We can spread some things around and save some payroll dollars in the short term. We can make some decisions by sitting back and analyzing what we're actually doing in those positions," he said. "Can I go forever without putting anybody back on the payroll in those positions? The answer is probably no. In the short term, it has been absolutely fine and we've been able to save some pretty good money."

 

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.

 

 

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