A $14.1 million county budget was formally approved by the Board of Supervisors on Monday with a tax hike for the county schools after hearing from two citizens

The county's approved budget for fiscal 2019 is set at $14,198,616, which is a $147,771 — or approximately 1 percent decrease over fiscal year 2018. According to County Administrator Jeff Mayo, the budget decreased due to proposed revenue remaining unchanged or decreasing slightly.

According to the figures provided by the supervisors, the 2019 millage levy will amount to 109.36 total mills, up from 107.27 mills. The increase is due to a 2.09 mill increase from the Neshoba County School District, which requested $5,148,877 in funds from the county for fiscal year 2018-2019, which would include a total school millage levy of 48.56, or 2.09 mills above last year's levy, according to Mayo.

Before the final vote on the budget and subsequent tax levy, the supervisors heard from two area residents regarding the proposed budget.

Pat Thaggard wanted clarification on the numbers reported in the Neshoba Democrat on the school district’s tax levy for this year versus the district’s tax levy for last year.

Recently the Democrat reported that the district would be receiving an additional $260,000 on a 2.09 mill increase. It was also reported in a previous story that the district received an additional $319,000 on a 1.45 mill increase in 2017. According to Mayo, the $260,000 figure for 2018 is correct. He noted that the increase to the school district would be approximately that $260,000 figure. Mayo did not provide an exact tally of the amount of additional revenues the district received in fiscal year 2017-2018 but said the total would be closer to $150,000 than $319,000.

David Carter said he was concerned that the supervisors were laying the tax increases at the foot of the school district and not doing enough to cut costs. He said he was concerned that his taxes would be increasing when he felt there were cost-cutting solutions the county was not considering.

Carter’s three specific issues were: the cost of maintaining the Neshoba County Coliseum, the nearly $300,000 price tag for the county’s new proposed voting machines and the cost of county trash services to taxpayers.

On each of Carter’s three points, board Vice President Allen White, who was sitting in for Board President Obbie Riley who was absent from the meeting, responded to Carter’s concerns. 

White said he was in support of privatizing the trash service as he wanted to get the county out of the trash collecting business, but White told Carter that there was no guarantee that private trash service would be cheaper in the long-run for county residents.

On the issue of the voting machine price tag, White said that the supervisors are considering consolidating voting precincts to save money on the cost of voting machines. Specifically, White said that one precinct in his district, District 4, would probably be consolidated at some point. 

White also said that cutting county costs to give money to the county’s school districts is not a practical approach.

“They don’t want us to give them money,” White said.

With zero growth last year in assessed valuation, supervisors had said money would be tight, especially since they needed to find an additional $300,000 for new voting machines to replace outdated devices, some of which have been duct taped. A possible 24-percent increase in health insurance premiums has also caused alarm.

The 4-percent increase is necessary because the district has been severely underfunded for decades, Superintendent Lundy Brantley said earlier this month as he prepared to present the tax hike proposal.

A 2015 bond issue for a new high school was the first in 40 years with a 9-mill hike generating about $1 million.

“These increases are not to get ahead; they are to keep up,” Brantley said recently. “The bottom line is we want to be Number 1, and we can’t do that with the chronic underfunding we have suffered for years.”

County Administrator Jeff Mayo said that while the county has many critical services that needed to be funded, the county was working with the resources it has available.