Meridian Star

August 27, 2013

Thomas: Chance of tax hike 'slight'

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — As city leaders move closer to balancing the city's budget, leaders on Monday acknowledged that there may be a small tax increase, although the likelihood is small.

    The Sept. 15 budget deadline is looming and officials don't yet know whether the tax rate approved last year will bring in as much money during the next fiscal year. Property value assessments in the city are not yet available and because property taxes fund much of city government,  officials will have to wait to set the millage rate until it gets news of property values.

    Just in case the city does have to raise taxes, it will publish a legal notice in The Meridian Star notifying taxpayers of a possible 2 mil increase.

    George Thomas, Ward One Councilman and president of the Meridian City Council, said the council is hoping that they won't have to raise taxes.

    "There is a possibility, a slight possibility, depending what assessed values come back in. We don't know what the property values are going to be," Thomas said.

    Because there is a chance that taxes will increase, the city must publish a legal notice saying so, Thomas said.

    "If we advertise that there will not be an increase, and then we get the appraisal values that are less than what they were last year, we do not have the option of raising taxes," Thomas said. "What we're trying to do is cover that possibility."

    The notice will say that the increase will be 1 or 2 mils, if it is necessary, Thomas said.

    Thomas said that a 1 mil increase would up the tax bill on a house valued at $100,000 by $10 annually.

    Thomas, along with the rest of the council and Mayor Percy Bland have been in budget talks for about three weeks and have been trying to reach a compromise on an initial proposed budget that Thomas said was $3 million too high.

    Throughout the month of August, Thomas has said they must find a way to cut $3 million from the budget to get it down to around $34 million. That's one part of the budget and does not include water, sewer and some other funds. The total budget is likely to be approximately $50 million.

    During tough financial times, city departments have already been asked to scale back on their budget requests. Ed Skipper, chief financial officer, working with Bland and other department heads, has managed to whittle the budget down.

    Skipper told the council on Monday that the budget was balanced, but there were equipment purchases that would not be approved, there would be no cost of living increase for city employees, and some special projects were cancelled.

    However, Bland's request for a pay increase for full time employees who make less than $9 an hour will go forward. Skipper said they were able to include that in the budget. The issue is something Bland pledged to pursue after he was elected, saying he wanted city employees to earn a livable wage.

    The new budget also includes the hiring of eight new police officers, but does not allow for the purchase of five new patrol cars. Bland reduced that request to one new patrol care.

    Bland, along with Curt Goldacker, chief administrative officer for the city, met with leaders of the city departments for about three hours on Thursday evening.

    "Some of the department heads had to give up some of the things they wanted," Bland said. "We're down to a balanced budget almost. We just have to go over a couple of more things from the department heads."

    Looking ahead at the city's financial future, Thomas said he is very concerned about the drop in tax revenue that will occur in two years when, between 2,000 and 3,000 construction workers at the power plant site in Kemper County are finished with the project and are no longer spending money in Meridian. Many live in Meridian and still others shop here, he said.

    "What effect is that going to have on our sales tax?" Thomas asked.