What has been rumored for weeks was confirmed by Oktibbeha County supervisors Monday night: A tax increase is coming.
The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors again plans to raise ad valorem taxes to meet budgetary needs, according to a presentation Monday. A nearly five-mill increase is planned.
“We’re having a tough time, and tough times require tough measures,” District 3 Supervisor and Board of Supervisor president Marvell Howard said, adding that one of his constituents in Maben asked him to have his taxes raised to keep county services.
“Believe me: If this board could cut out its mills by 10, we would.”
County administrator Don Posey cited expenses for prisoners, cutbacks on homestead exemptions and gas severance and keeping employee salaries afloat for an increase in taxes, part of which is due to the $27.5 million bond to cosmetically renovate what is now called the OCH Regional Medical Center while also adding a parking lot.
The hospital’s board of trustees successfully passed a referendum to issue the bond, because the county-owned facilitydid not have the debt capacity to issue one itself.
Several members of a crowd of more than 35 people suggested that the board sell the hospital, which would increase the county’s revenue by tens of millions of dollars.
Tamara Allen said she hoped that when the bond was paid and if the hospital became profitable, it would pay the citizens back by funding county services such as infrastructure maintenance.
Milo Burnham said that almost 40 percent of admissions into the OCH Regional Medical Center are “freeloaders” coming from outside Oktibbeha County.
Comparing OCH to East Mississippi Community College, a school to which that several counties contribute funds, suggested that the board meet with other counties to share the burden of the bond issue now that the hospital has become “Regional” and offers services to residents of six other counties.
“Right now, it’s more regional in theory and name,” Howard responded.
“Then they should change it,” Allen said.
After hearing the presentation, Chris Cosper, a local architect, requested that the board present a budget without a millage increase and see what its constituents have to say.
He received no answer.
“We are now two years into a major recession, and I just don’t see how you can propose a millage increase,” Cosper said, adding that Monday’s presentation appeared to be an argument for a tax increase.
“We’re here to show you what services we offer for your taxes,” Howard responded.
“I didn’t see that,” Cosper said.
“Oktibbeha County is kind of unique in that we’re growing at a fast pace, almost faster than you can keep up with,” said Posey.
The Board of Supervisors has raised taxes annually for the past nine years and given county government employees a 5 percent raise annually for 15 years, some residents said.
Posey said that some county employees were making $6 per hour 15 years ago, leaving it vulnerable to workers getting hired elsewhere.
“That’s not the case now,” he said.
Posey also said he and the Board of Supervisors have tried to minimize costs in every way they can. “Every budget has been cut from what it was,” Posey said.
“Does that mean supervisors take reduction in pay?” Burnham asked, generating laughter throughout the room.
Richard Mullenax, said that the board was repeatedly asking people who’ve had no increase in revenue to pay more taxes.
The board must approve the county’s 2010-2011 budget by Sept. 15.