The Simpson County Board of Supervisors has prepped their annual budget and set it for review on September 15 at 9 a.m. in the county board room.
Any citizen may appear before the board at that time and make their case in regard to the county’s proposed budget for the upcoming calendar year, which starts on October 1,2021, and runs through September 30, 2022.
The newspaper sat down with County Administrator Rheul Dickinson to review the budget, noting highlights from the budget for the upcoming year. Dickinson said one of the biggest issues is that because of increased taxes last year and increased expenses this year there would be no budgeted raises for county employees. He added that when the board can find any extra funds, they would like to consider raises for employees but so far no extra funds have been found.
Fortunately for tax payers, no additional millage will be required to fund the county budget for this year. The additional millage will instead be based on new growth that resulted from Phase One of the Mississippi Hub project having been granted a 10-year fee in lieu for taxation. Taxes have been paid on the property, but there is an issue.
Mississippi Hub has filed an objection to the amount of taxes they were charged based on the valuation of their facility. This was based on the fact that the fee in lieu of tax involved a lower tax rate because the project was in excess of $200 million in construction costs.
Since then the property has been sold along with another similar facility at at far lower costs than construction. The company contends that the property is only valued at one-third the cost of construction. Mississippi Hub filed suit against the county because of valuation, but the court recently found in favor of the county, which in turn wanted to do valuation based on construction of the project. While the county got a favorable ruling in the courts, it does not prevent future objections being filed as well as appeals.
Taxes are currently being paid at the county’s assessed rate. Dickinson also noted that contrary to past trends of public utilities showing a downward trend, an uptick in valuation has produced additional revenue.
Many variables determine the value of a mill. This includes whether or not it is a general obligation mill or a road and bridge and issues like homestead exemption. However the simplified value for this year is $231,558. The millage rate for this year will remain at the current rate of 108 mills to fund the budget. Part of the reason it did not change is because of the increased valuation which was mentioned previously.
There is some big news to come from this budget and that included approximately $6.1 million in road improvement bonds. According to Dickinson and this has not met the final approval of the board this will allow for 100 to 130 miles of resurfacing county roads with rock and tar surface. This will most likely be handled through a contractor because this is too big of a project for the Road Department. They will continue to preform maintenance of the roadways in Simpson County.
There is an existing Road Bond that the county is paying and it is set to expire in May 2024. Dickinson said the county has been fortunate in that the state legislature has created funding through the Use Tax and Modernization funds that will help service the debt until 2024. Part of these proceeds are through the internet tax fees being diverted back to counties of origin.
New purchases which have budgeted for include two new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Department. There has been a request for three however funds are available through seized funds to provide and additional automobile. There was a request to fund two additional deputy positions which were not funded.
There is budgeted the replacement of three tandem dump trucks which leases are set to expire during this budget year.
The county is being faced with funding for a higher cost of $38,000 for a parttime public defender in Circuit Court as well as a new audio recording service for the courtroom. The county also is budgeting $18,000 for a part time public defender in justice court.
Dickinson said that the budgets for Youth, Circuit and Chancery Courts were consistent with last year budget requests.
Dickinson said there is a large increase in health insurance for this year and is expected to come in at 23 percent over last year and that is primarily based on previous year’s claims. The county has approximately 130 to 140 employees on payroll.
Another area of increase is that for healthcare for inmates. Based on Covid-19 protocol there has been additional healthcare supplies needed for inmate care during the Pandemic.
There is a need however a plan has not been determined for the rotation of the fleet of vehicles used in collection of garbage in solid waste.
According to Dickinson the budget process is long and starts with what was actually needed from the year before. Each line is analyzed to make determination what funds are reoccurring and how to best manage the county’s financial assets.