Commissioners face revenue woes

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Marshall County commissioners are facing a particularly difficult spring because their annual budget is to be assembled when unemployment rates here are approaching those of the Great Depression.

"It's sort of a bleak picture," County Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the Budget Committee told his fellow commissioners Monday when he outlined three basic options for building a budget to start July 1.

Noting the unemployment rate at 19 percent, King listed those budget options as:

* Raise taxes;

* Cut payroll; or,

* Cut services.

"We've cut about as much as we can," he said of the spending reductions made last summer when the budget was adopted.

An example of reduced revenue from property taxes is the closure of Sanford's pencil factory here. Its 350 employees are personally affected, but county revenue is, too.

Sanford's personal property tax bill is nothing now because equipment was moved. Property Assessor Linda Haislip said this is the first year Sanford won't be paying personal property taxes.

"And they've appealed their real property taxes, too," Haislip said.

Property owners may contest their real estate's appraised value and that affects their tax bill and county revenue. A long-standing schedule for the Board of Equalization has its hearings start on June 1. Without results of the Equalization Board's deliberations, the county won't know exactly how much the property tax rate might generate in revenue.

The county's property rate is $3.09 per $100 of assessed value.

Commission Chairman Billy Spivey wants county department leaders to assemble budgets to be reviewed early next month.

Adopting a budget before the next commission is sworn in for service starting Sept. 1 has been a stated goal for Spivey.

Noting the School Board has a $1 million wish list, Commissioner Jimmy Stitt suggested that the commission invite the school board to the next budget workshop "and get them going" on a spending plan that the county can afford.

Commissioner Larry McKnight suggested setting an earlier deadline for finalizing the budget.

Unemployment, foreclosures and other economic factors have lowered property tax collections. King said that normally at this time of year, the property tax bills are well over three quarters paid. Now, hardly two thirds of that revenue has been received.