Lowndes passes $38M budget; property taxes remain the same


Garthia Elena Burnett



Residents of Lowndes County who live outside of municipality limits will not see a tax increase this-coming fiscal year. 


The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors passed a $38 million budget Thursday morning. The total millage was set at 40.01 mills, the same as the previous fiscal year. Though the value of a mill in Lowndes County dropped from $471,000 to $451,000, the supervisors did not pass the increase on to taxpayers. The difference will come out of reserves. 


The value of a mill also fell in the Lowndes County School District, from $301,000 to $289,000. 


The value of a mill is based on the taxable property in an area. The closing of Domtar paper mill last year is the primary reason for the decrease. Domtar employed more than 200 people. 


The supervisors also approved the budget for the school district, which is set at 47.76 mills, the same as last fiscal year. Taxes likewise will not increase for Lowndes County School District residents. The district also is making up the difference in lost mill value out of its own pocket. 


The Lowndes County budget includes $1,040-a-year or 50-cent-per-hour raises for most salaried and hourly wage county employees. 


Excluded from the raises are County Administrator Ralph Billingsley and four road-crew members who already make a higher salary than their peers. 


Billingsley said he did not include raises for the four road department employees in the interest of "equity." 


The four were moved from higher-ranking administrative positions several years ago but retained their pay scale. 


It was District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks'' first time learning of the exclusion for the road-crew members, and he disagreed with the decision. 


The matter illustrates why the county should have "had a budget workshop with all five men sitting at the table" he said. "We would all be privy to the same information." 


On Sept. 6, Brooks requested a budget workshop prior to Sept. 15, the state''s deadline for municipalities and counties to pass a balanced budget. The effort failed by a vote of 3-2. 


Brooks and District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith voted for the workshop; Sanders, District 3 Supervisor John Holliman and District 2 Supervisor Frank Ferguson voted against and instead supported meeting with Billingsley one or two at a time to go over the budget. 


County and municipality fiscal years begin Oct. 1; school districts fiscal years begin July 1. 


Brooks warned passing over the men for raises, for the second time in the past several years, could mean a lawsuit. He motioned to give them the same raise they were giving other employees. The measure failed 3-2, with Brooks and District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith voting for, and Sanders, District 3 Supervisor John Holliman and District 2 Supervisor Frank Ferguson voting against. 


The only adjustment made to the budget during Thursday''s meeting was earmarking $25,000 for a west entrance at East Mississippi Community College-Mayhew campus. 


The county had been paying 2 mills, a minimum required by law, plus an additional $225,000 toward repayment of a capital-improvements loan taken out 10 years ago. (The value of a mill for EMCC for Lowndes County was more than a half-million dollars for the closing fiscal year.) 


Since the debt is paid off, Lowndes County took the $225,000 out of its budget and was going to give EMCC 2 mills -- $994,000 with this year''s value of a Lowndes County EMCC mill -- this-coming fiscal year. 


After a presentation from EMCC President Dr. Rick Young, the board voted to provide the additional $25,000. When Brooks asked for the money be earmarked for a certain capital-improvement project, Young offered the entrance as one "shovel-ready" project that could be funded with the money. 


Lowndes County will allocate a total of $1.19 million to EMCC, down from the previous year''s $1.25 million. 


Initially, Young asked the board to continue to provide the extra $225,000 for use in the community college''s general fund. Sanders said the $225,000 was allocated toward a specific set of projects, and the note for those projects had expired. 


Without a specific facilities-improvement plan, Sanders said, he couldn''t support allocating the money, especially not to be used in the school''s general fund. He also noted EMCC takes in millions of dollars for workforce training from local industries. 


Sanders and other supervisors agreed they would support a facilities master plan next year, if they were still on the board. 


Smith solidified his seat for next year in the Democratic primary. However, Brooks, Sanders and Holliman face opposition in November. Ferguson was unseated in the Republican primary. 


Young said EMCC has a facilities plan, including the addition of a $10 million student union at Mayhew and a $30 million nursing and allied health facility to be built on Airport Road on land donated by retired architect and developer Wayne Fishback. 


Young also wants to continue the college''s dedication to workforce development, an effort that has taken away from the school expanding in other areas. 


"For us to grow ... we''ve got to have an increase in funding to do that," Young said. "We are at a point where we are at capacity as far as resources." 


When Sanders questioned Young about previously proposed plans for the school to buy the Columbus Country Club as a turf-management and culinary-arts facility, the school president said he had planned to take the $1.8 million to purchase it out of reserves. 


Such a building would cost more than $2 million to build; plus, the country club sits on "100 acres of prime real estate in the heart of Columbus," Young said.




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