Lowndes County passes Fiscal Year '14 budget

September 14, 2013 8:28:08 PM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


Lowndes County residents living outside of Columbus will see a millage decrease when the 2013-14 fiscal year begins in October. 


Supervisors passed a budget with $40,113,578 in revenues and $41,087,904 in expenditures after a public hearing Friday. County millage rates remained at 38.01 but school rates decreased from 47.76 to 46.71. The county budget also includes a mandatory two mills to East Mississippi Community College. bringing total millage to 86.72. The difference will amount to a 1.05 decrease in the total millage rate. 


Increases in the value of general and school district mills jumped as predicted. County mills are up to $485,000 from $446,000, while school mills increased to $331,000. They were $274,000. 


Of the two mills given to EMCC 0.77 mills go toward maintenance, 0.37 will be used for capital improvements and the remaining 0.86 mills are set aside for vocational-technical program maintenance. A Lowndes County EMCC mill is worth $542,000, so the college will receive $1,084,000 plus $325,000 supervisors committed in their general fund for capital projects. 


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% 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. 


The school ad valorem request approved totals $14,629,962. That along with $831,050 in debt services gives the school district a $15,461,012 budget for 2013-14. The school district had asked for $15,808,560 after it approved a budget of $13,086,240. The $15,808,560 was requested after the district found out school mill values would increase, according to a previous Dispatch report. Supervisors asked last month for the school district to lower that amount. 


The county set aside 25.3 mills for its general fund and 5.77 mills for roads. 


Supervisors approved the budget as presented to them Friday with an additional $18,500. Columbus-Lowndes Public Library will receive an extra $6,500 on top of the $326,900 it had originally been appropriated. The board added $7,000 to the $680,000 it set aside for Columbus-Lowndes Parks and Recreation. Safe Haven, a local organization devoted to providing assistance to victims of domestic violence, was initially defunded its usual $5,000, but the county restored that funding on the condition that it is certified as a United Way organization. The county has a budget item for United Way, which takes what the county budgets for it each year and distributes the funding to various local non-profits. With Safe Haven being under the United Way umbrella, the county's budget for United Way would be $110,000 this year. 


Devoting extra funding toward the library and parks was preceded by discussion regarding the city of Columbus' financial committments toward those organizations. The city raised its appropriation in its FY 2013-14 budget from $601,960 to $610,693 but did not adjust its provision to the library. That amount remained at $250,000. 


The library's director, Erin Stringer, asked for the additional funding from the county board so she could meet her budget and noted she had asked the city for more money as well. 


"I think one of the most vital institutions in any county is the library," Brooks said. "I just think as we set some priorties that anything that facilitates and enhances education we need to seriously look at it." 


Sanders said he agreed with Brooks but wanted to see more financial support from the city in the future because as part of county's interlocal agreement with the city, each entity is supposed to give the library the same amount. 


"I'm in big support of the library," Sanders said. "I don't think it's fair for the county to give $70,000 more than the city does when we're 50/50 funding (partners)." 


"There are a number of things we do with the city that are not happening," Brooks said. "They may not have the money, but by virtue of the fact that they can't do that, it's really handicapping some things." 


Several county departments' budgets saw cuts from the current year's budget, most of which were minimal. This included decreases in the building and grounds department's by 36.2 percent, while county emergency management saw a 5.6 percent decrease from $161,930 this year to $152,858 next year. 


Any extra expenditures would come from the county's cash balance. 


The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.