County schools see a reduction in value; revenue to see increase

By BETH BUNCH,

Forrest County taxpayers will not see a tax increase for Fiscal Year 2020.

During Tuesday morning’s budget hearing, the Forrest County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a $48 million budget with no millage increase for its taxpayers.

Cutting the fat where they could, Board President David Hogan said there would actually be a .18 decrease in the county’s millage rate. One mill is equal to one-thousandth of $1, which is levied per every $1,000 of a property's determined taxable value.

The new budget, which takes effect Oct. 1, will also see a $200,000 decrease over current year spending.

The $200,000 decrease in revenue is due to the state and federal money the county is receiving for project reimbursements in the general fund – mainly the county school safe rooms.

“We will basically be at level funding for this next fiscal year,” Hogan said.

The proposed budget has projected revenue of $48,623.948. According to the county’s chief financial officer Penny Steed, of that amount, 68 percent or $32,982,273 is proposed to be financed through ad valorem tax millage.

“This board tried very hard to keep the costs down and make our budget fit into the current millage rate,” Hogan said. “We had to make some tough decisions and we’re going to have to tighten our belts and run pretty lean this next fiscal year, but it was very important to this board not to see an increase in millage rates for the taxpayers of Forrest County.”

Hogan said there was also a reduction in value in the county schools.

“I’m proud that we’re able to announce that even though we did have some decrease in some values, we were able to hold the budget going into FY 2020,” he said.

Steed went over the budget, noting an approximate increase in revenue of $1.2 million.

Currently, the county has paid out in advance about $7.5 million for the saferooms and has only received reimbursement of $1.8 million, which comes from FEMA/MEMA.

More saferoom money, as well as funds for the emergency bridge repair project, will be expended through the FY 2020 budget.

Steed noted that a cash carryover for the county is significant.

Unlike municipalities where they receive a large part of their money through sales tax, the county receives no sales tax money, thus has to operate with carryover funds until money is received from taxes in February.

“We really have to operate and carry on and have money available to operate us from October through January and part of February,” she said, noting that the county is spending well more than $3 million each month in these funds. “We have to have this money available to carry us over so we don’t have to borrow money to get us into a new year until the tax money comes to us from the tax collector’s office.”

Hogan echoed her sentiments noting that the county is sometimes criticized for having a sizable carryover amount.

“But if you know how county government works, you know that you really have no money from the end of September until after Feb. 1 and it takes $10 to $12 million to keeps the lights on,” Hogan said. “And oftentimes we have unexpected things like the saferooms and have to be prepared for and have carryover money to handle such things.”

Sixty-eight percent of the county’s budget comes for tax levies being set, while 12 percent comes from federal services and 2 percent from state sources.

“We are operating mainly on the tax levies,” Steed said. “This board has always been very conservative in what they do in requesting those levies.”

The total expenditures amount of about $52 million, which is a slight decrease from last year. The decrease is also attributed to a lot of the saferoom project funds having already been expended.

Steed said the county is currently finishing out one capital project – the Sheeplo Community Center.

Homestead exemption money totals a little more than $40 million, which is a $1 million increase over the current year.

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