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No tax increase expected for Starkville residents



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PDF file File: Tentative Starkville FY 17-18 budget overview

Carl Smith



Oktibbeha County and Starkville property owners' expected tax rates are becoming clearer as the city's tentative Fiscal Year 2017-18 budget does not call for a millage increase for operational expenses. 


Advertisements ahead of Tuesday's budget hearing state Starkville will continue to operate on its 25.58-mill levy in the upcoming fiscal year, which is expected to bring in about $6 million. 


Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District's local ask of 64.98 mills and an almost-3 mill increase to 58.59 mills for county government operations and debt service means outlying Oktibbeha County property owners are expected to pay a combined 123.57-mill rate from the two local taxing sources. 


Adding the city's tax levy to those two rates and subtracting the millage Starkville residents do not pay for countywide volunteer fire services -- approximately 2.66 mills are budgeted for those services in the upcoming fiscal year -- gives a combined municipal, county and school rate of 146.49 mills for city residents. 


The overall county rate means owners of residential properties inside Oktibbeha County but outside of defined municipalities will pay $1,235.70 per $100,000 of their home's assessed values in annual property taxes, while the combined 146.49-mill levy will cost Starkville homeowners $1,464.49 annually per $100,000 of their home's worth.  


Those two estimates do not take into consideration tax breaks given through homestead exemption, and commercial properties (15 percent) are assessed higher than residential properties (10 percent). 


Proposed millage rates for Maben and Sturgis were not immediately available from the county Wednesday. 






Starkville's upcoming budget balances $21.98 million between various streams of revenue and expenses. 


Tentative projections have salaries and wages ($8.41 million) as the city's largest expenses, closely followed by a combined $3.24 million for other personnel costs, including contributions to retirement ($1.31 million) and Social Security ($636,330), hospital insurance ($1.06 million), workers' compensation ($234,415) and employee educational costs ($5,000). 


Starkville is also budgeting $2.72 million for contractual services (down $472,528 from FY 16-17), $2.49 million for capital outlay (up $882,709) and $2.65 million for debt service (up about $6,000) in the upcoming fiscal year. 


The city's tax rate already includes a levy for its $7 million portion of the Golden Triangle Development LINK-backed industrial park, said Ward 2 Alderman and Starkville Audit and Budget Committee Chairman Sandra Sistrunk. 


"My goal was to prepare a budget that was neutral as far as taxes, so we then could have the discussion with the board as to whether there were additional services they'd like to provide and how we could fund those services," she said. "It could be fatigue from borrowing for bond issuances or just the reluctance to raise taxes in general, but there was no interest in a tax increase to be used to fund new positions, like police officers and fire, or expand city services." 


Under those constraints, Sistrunk said the budget also does not significantly grow the city's ending fund balance, but the goal will still be part of the administration's four-year plan. 




Oktibbeha County 


Oktibbeha County's general operations budget dedicates millage to individual line items, from its specific road and bridge funds to pledges for East Mississippi Community College and OCH Regional Medical Center. 


The tentative budget adds two tax-specific line items not present in the previous fiscal year: a 2-mill pledge to service debt associated with the county's $7 million industrial park commitment and a 0.48-mill levy to fund a portion of East Mississippi Community College's Communiversity project in Lowndes County. 


It also increases the Oktibbeha County Fire Services' pledge from 2.42 mills to 2.66 mills -- the maximum increase allowed by statute for one fiscal year -- and increases debt service on the county's recently issued $14.5 million road bond from 1.75 mills to 3.15 mills. 






Figures the county administrator's office provided show SOCSD is asking for 64.98 local mills for its fiscal year, which is broken down between individual assessments for primary operations (53.98 mills), notes (2.05 mills), a general obligation bond (7.95 mills) and the Millsaps Career and Technology Center (1 mill). 


Funding from a homestead exemption will push the district's operational budget, also known as its school maintenance fund, back to its FY 16-17 rate of 55 mills, but that funding request is handled by the state and is not included when factoring local taxes.  


SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant's first budget as district leader cuts many individual line items -- classroom supplies (10 percent); athletics (10 percent); supplies and services for district security (10 percent), maintenance (5 percent) and transportation (3 percent) supplies, and technology (10 percent), among others -- but does not reduce salaries or positions. 


Those cuts, Peasant said in July, were made before the district learned the value of a school mill would increase by about $15,550 in SOCSD's upcoming fiscal year, and the growth could allow trustees to come back and amend the budget as needed. 


Peasant also said the growth in revenue could allow SOCSD to build up its ending fund balance to about $8 million by 2018. 


SOCSD did not issue a tax anticipation note -- indebtedness that carries the district between the beginning of its fiscal year (July 1) and the start of the county government's fiscal year (Oct. 1) -- while finalizing its budget for the first time in years. 


On paper, the school district's budget shows its $81.03 million in expected expenditures outpacing the $58.06 million it expects to receive from local, state and federal sources, but those expenses are inflated by previously planned -- and financially covered -- construction efforts. 


Instruction makes up the lion's share of SOCSD expenses -- about 35 percent of overall spending -- and is budgeted at $28.42 million. Funding for facilities acquisition and construction ($22.52 million), support services ($19.2 million), non-instructional services ($5.75 million) and 16th Section land ($64,350) round out the district's different areas of expense, while SOCSD will also pledge $5.07 million toward debt service. 


Salaries -- an estimated $35.77 million for the fiscal year -- again make up the district's single largest line item.


Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch



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