Meridian Star

August 16, 2013

County officials say no new taxes

By Terri Ferguson Smith / tsmith@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Residents of Lauderdale County will see no increase in property taxes this year, according to county officials who have just completed a budget of approximately $50 million.

    The new budget year starts Oct. 1.

    Property owners will not pay more on their taxes than they did this year, unless the assessed value of their property has increased.

    There will not be a pay raise for county employees this year, as they were given one last year, Florey said.

    Hank Florey, supervisor of District One and president of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors, said keeping expenses down is a year-long effort of supervisors and county employees. He credited much of the success of the balanced budget to Joe McCraney, county administrator.

    "We've been trying to cut all year long. Joe McCraney has done a great job in talking with the department heads," Florey said. "The department heads, this fiscal year, have been very cooperative in holding down expenses. We appreciate that."

McCraney said the millage rate will stay as it is at 56.70. However, that will generate slightly more money for the county because of the increased value of public utilities.

    "This is the fourth year that the millage rate has been that number," McCraney said, "and that's in a down economy."

    The final numbers are not yet calculated for the overall budget. Last year's budget was $51.7 million.

    Keeping costs down can be attributed to several departments, including Tax Collector Stanley Shannon, whose office collects garbage fees, McCraney said.

    "The tax collector now has a mechanism to collect," McCraney said. "If the garbage fund is healthy, the general fund is healthy because it doesn't have to support it."

Looking ahead, McCraney said, the tax coffers will get healthier down the line because of the recent sale of tax-forfeited houses. Those are houses that were owned by the state because the owners had lost them due to back taxes. Getting those houses back on the tax rolls will help Lauderdale County, he said.

    Earlier this year, buyers purchased 40 parcels in the county that had been forfeited to the state. An additional 60 that were inside the city limits of Meridian were purchased, he said.

"That's something we need to continue to do in order to make sure that we have all property on the tax rolls," McCraney said. "The state's not going to pay any taxes. You have to get them back on the tax rolls."

    Also, Tax Assessor James Rainey has helped keep costs down by having property appraisers done in-house, rather than outsourcing them, McCraney said.

    The Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department will get additional funding to help pay for housing and medical services. Sheriff Billy Sollie has consistently said over the last several months that the growing inmate population is a problem. When the population reaches its limit, some prisoners are transferred to Kemper County.

    Juvenile offenders are usually housed in Rankin County, as Lauderdale does not have a youth detention center.

    McCraney said the sheriff's office funding was increased $108,631, the jail's budget was increased $288,692, and the juvenile offenders budget was increased  $66,574.

    "The vast majority of the increase is to cover expenses for inmates we send to Kemper County," Sollie said.

    A public hearing on the budget will be set for Sept. 9 at 5:30 p.m. in the board room in the Raymond P. Davis County Annex Building, 410 Constitution Avenue, Meridian.

    The town of Marion, according to Mayor Elvis Hudson, will not have a tax increase this year either.

    The city of Meridian has not yet set its budget or tax rate for the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.