City, county budgets set; no tax changes

Property taxes, except where higher valuations have been assigned, will remain level in the coming year under spending plans adopted separately by Vicksburg and Warren County officials Tuesday.

Vicksburg’s $28.8 million budget shows an increase of almost $300,000 from the spending plan discussed at a public hearing Aug. 23. But as adopted, the next budget for the year starting Oct. 1 is still smaller than the current one, meaning some departments will see cuts.

Warren County’s $15.2 million spending plan contains few surprises and, like the city’s, keeps property tax rates the same while reflecting more income due to having more property to tax and higher values assigned from the one-fourth of the county that underwent reappraisal this year.

Keeping taxes at a rate of 83.94 mills will translate into a tax bill of $538.20 for every $100,000 in market value of a home outside Vicksburg city limits and $807.30 for the same home if inside the city. Some may pay a bit more because of extra millages collected for fire protection outside the city and in levee districts. The millage rate is also a factor in determining the price of car tags.

The largest portion of the county levy goes to the Vicksburg Warren School District, which is operating on a $77 million budget, of which about a third or $25.4 million comes from local property tax collections. The school budget year starts July 1.

Changes in the city’s plan from the hearing show another $381,000 to a total of $930,000 this year shifted to the administration category. For several years, the city has split allocations between administrative and operational expenses for each department. For example, fuel for police cars would be in operational and salaries would be administrative. Also, the city no longer awards raises at the beginning of a budget year. Strategic planner Paul Rogers said the $930,000 would cover the cost of merit raises to be awarded to the city’s nearly 600 employees through the year.

Overall, funding for city law enforcement will be down by $285,000 over this year’s budget. Increases to the department’s capital and supplies funds are offset by a $426,280 cut to the department’s payroll, which, Rogers said, reflects elimination of budgeting for unfilled jobs. Fire services will also see reductions due to lower capital expenses. The city purchased four ambulances and a rescue unit this year. In the coming year, purchase of a pumper is planned making the net difference, with other changes, a $507,000 decrease to just over $5.4 million.

For Warren County, new spending totals $1.54 million, $571,866 of which comes from the 8 percent increase in the overall value of taxable property. The money will finance 4 percent across-the-board raises for county employees, extra vehicles for deputies, mapping, more money for renovating Riverfront Park and paying down debt associated with upgrading technology in emergency dispatch.

Four of the five supervisors face re-election contests on Nov. 6. Only District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, the Democratic nominee, has no opponent and is assured a new, four-year term starting Jan. 1. While comment from supervisors was scant overall, common themes were revived about copies of the projected budget being unavailable to the public before the day it is both unveiled and adopted.

“It’s in (the public’s) best interest to have some lead time,” District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders said.

Flanders’ comments were echoed by retail executive and District 1 supervisor candidate Margaret Gilmer, the lone member of the public to speak at Tuesday’s official hearing before the vote to adopt the plan. “It’s hard to comment if you haven’t seen the numbers,” Gilmer said.

Education and physical fitness pay incentives for sheriff’s deputies made the final version of the budget at a cost of $81,243, as did $370,000 in improvements to the Warren County Courthouse and Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library. Land roll books and records to be restored in the chancery and circuit clerks offices received a $57,000 appropriation.

In a growing category, donations of tax money to nonprofit agencies, for which legislative permission must be sought each year, increased by about $20,000, with most donations now coming from the general fund as opposed to gaming revenue, which the county tallies separately.

Some of the $615,500 marked for donations are going to organizations whose primary mission is charity, such as the Vicksburg Area Chapter of the American Red Cross and the United Way of West Central Mississippi.

Other county allocations seeing changes will be:

* Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport, down about $2,000 because of federal grants anticipated for large-scale runway system improvements

* Parks and Recreation Commission, which will see an extra $20,000 to install a new irrigation system at the golf course at Clear Creek.

* Elections, as a $40,212 increase in funding allows for state-mandated pay raises for poll workers during elections.

* Vicksburg Warren Humane Society, which will have $225,000 in gaming funds rolled over to pay for an expansion of its kennel off U.S. 61 South.

Warren County and City of Vicksburg tax rates overall have remained largely unchanged for several years while spending has risen most years. That has been made possible by three factors. One has been growth in taxable properties and rising values of land and vehicles. The second has been the ongoing reappraisal system under which one-fourth of all county parcels are revalued each year. The third, and largest, has been revenue-based and property taxes collected on casinos since 1993. From revenue-based taxes alone, the county expects $2.6 million in the coming year and the city expects nearly a third of its total revenue to come from revenue and property taxes on the four casinos now operating, all inside the corporate limits.

By Danny Barrett Jr. and Tom Hartwell, The Vicksburg Post

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