January 20, 2021 10:29:48 AM
Oktibbeha County supervisors continued grappling Tuesday morning with the prospect of issuing more bonds to cover a new five-year road work plan.
Lynn Norris, with Madison-based Governmental Consultants Inc., gave supervisors what he called his "written on the back of an envelope" projections for the county's borrowing capacity. He also told them any new debt they took on would require a property tax increase of as much as 2 mills.
"You could do $10 million this year if you wanted to," Norris told supervisors at their regular meeting in the chancery courthouse. "If your (property tax collections) grew by 1 percent a year over the next eight or nine years, you could do $25 million."
He said historically county property tax collections are rising an average of 4 to 5 percent per year.
A $10 million road bond wouldn't require as many mills, he said, but adding "some mills" would be necessary to "do anything of substance."
"It may be a little painful to start with, but once you get the millage in place you'll be able to do a lot of work," he said.
Still, getting a hard figure, Norris said, would require him receiving more information from the county on current property tax collection trends. It also would require an actual prioritized list for what roads supervisors wanted to improve over the next five years, something County Administrator Emily Garrard noted they haven't done yet.
"We need to get a plan for what we want to use this money for," Garrard told the board. "Not just going and borrowing money then saying, 'We've got this money, now let's go find some projects.'"
To that end, District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard suggested calling a work session to "explore all options" with Norris. The board did not schedule the work session -- mainly because District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery and District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer were absent Tuesday and would need to be consulted -- but indicated it would likely be set for some time in February.
"We might decide we want to do all of it, some of it or none of it," Howard said of the still-to-be-developed road project list. "... The work session is mainly to educate the board and the public about our options."
Supervisors in 2017 dedicated 3 mills to service $14.5 million in road bonds over 15 years. The county raised taxes 1.4 mills and shifted the rest into debt service from other funds.
Because the county will continue paying on that bond until 2032, Garrard said there are no mills "rolling off" the books that could be rededicated to a new bond. So raising the millage again might be necessary to cover the debt.
If the mill rate increased by 2, according to Norris' projection, it would cost the taxpayers $20 more per year for every $100,000 of assessed property value not covered by Homestead Exemption.
District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller said she would oppose a millage increase.
"During this time, I don't think we should raise taxes at all," Miller said.
Board president Joe Williams, who represents District 5, offered an alternative Miller said she would find acceptable, if the math works. He suggested adding the internet sales tax revenue -- which can be used for roads and bridges -- to the capital improvement fund to support the new road bond, which would allow the county to shift more mills into debt service without raising the overall millage.
How that would work, Garrard told The Dispatch after the meeting, is the county would add 2 mills to capital improvement debt service and reduce its mills by the same amount in the road maintenance.
Garrard said the county received roughly $200,000 in internet sales tax collections in 2020, and that amount is "theoretically" supposed to double this year and increase by about $200,000 per year for five more years thereafter.
However, even if that does happen, the $400,000 in internet sales tax collections are roughly equivalent to the value of only 1 county mill ($399,000). Getting the second mill's worth could require waiting at least another year to approve a new road bond, which would allow more internet sales tax revenue to come in, as well as more property tax collection growth.
"That's what we need to have this work session for," Garrard told The Dispatch.
COVID vaccines, curfew
In other business, Emergency Management Director Kristin Campanella told supervisors the Mississippi Horse Park location is giving more than 400 Moderna COVID-19 vaccines per day.
Last week, the horse park, which is partnering with the Mississippi State Department of Health as one of 18 mass vaccination sites in the state, saw 820 citizens on Wednesday and Friday combined. Another 410 each day have appointments for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week, and Campanella hopes the site can soon start accommodating 600 appointments per day.
The horse park is serving as a COVID testing site on Mondays and Tuesdays, she said.
As of now, the state has opened vaccinations to citizens 65 and older, as well as those 18-64 with certain underlying medical conditions. An MSDH-operated website offers qualifying residents an opportunity to sign up for available appointments, and a Mississippian can book an appointment at any of the 18 sites.
However, the site isn't booking any more appointments for the rest of January, Campanella said, and she is hearing citizens grumbling about difficulty navigating the state website.
"I know it can be frustrating when you look at the website, but keep checking it," Campanella said.
Supervisors also extended the countywide curfew "indefinitely" to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. It remains in effect for midnight-5 a.m.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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