County values rise, bodes well for stability

Friday, July 8, 2011

The value of all properties in Marshall County increased since this time last year, according to leaders based in the Courthouse Annex on Lewisburg's public square.

"It went up a little bit," County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett said Wednesday morning on his mobile phone while discussing various county concerns. "It will help some."

County Commission Chairman Tom Sumners said, "We were afraid that it would be less."

It might be said that it could give county commissioners a reason to avoid a property tax rate hike, although Sumners is cautions against being too optimistic: "I don't think we could make that decision right yet. We don't have enough facts right now."

The increase in the overall value of taxable property is part of a calculation on how much revenue comes from each penny on the tax rate. That figure is up in contrast to the previous two years when it was decreasing.

During the fiscal years starting in 2008, the so-called value of the penny went like this: $51,000, $48,800, $47,900 and $48,500, according to reports from Property Assessor Linda Haislip.

"Previously," County Budget Director Freda Terry said, "it had always grown by something."

She does not know why the tax base went up, and Haislip was unavailable. Terry quotes Haislip as saying she doesn't have an explanation.

"She was, honestly, shocked, too, and if she doesn't know why, I certainly don't know," Terry said.

Asked if there's a general sentiment among commissioners on the county budget committee, Terry replied, "Ninety-nine percent of the time, the conversation is, 'I'm not voting for a rate increase.'"

However, Liggett and others note county income from other revenue streams is going down.

"There are others that are going down, like the money we have invested," the county mayor said referring to interest paid on the county's certificates of deposit. "Some (CDs) are coming up for renewal and we'll probably have a tough time getting a good rate when we do renew them."

Terry notes another countervailing force against the growth in property tax revenue.

"The delinquency factor went up because of bankruptcies," she said.

That "factor" lowered the number used to calculate expected income, but it does not diminish the fact that the combined value of properties in this county increased.

The combined value went up from $541,050,327, the figure used last summer to calculate the expiring budget, to $543,347,888, the figure from which basic calculations are made to provide an expected income from county property taxes for the next county budget.

It's not a result of the periodic review of property values by the assessor's office.

"Reappraisal is next year," Terry said.

The increase in the county's property tax base is approaching $2.3 billion, according to a couple of annual reports from the assessor's office.

"We all agreed we're fortunate that it went up," the commission chairman said.

"We're still waiting on the big boys; the roads and school budgets," Sumners said.

The school board budget committee was to have met Thursday night. The School Board is to meet Monday night.

Because two important parts of the county's budget, currently totaling some $64.4 million, county commissioners are waiting for a proposed budget for roads and schools. It is, however, the school budget that consumes the largest part of the annual county budget. As set a year ago, the school budget started at $38 million, including the school lunch program.

About 59 percent of all county income is spent on schools.

Now, Liggett says, "We have zero numbers from the schools. It will probably be August, if not later" before a county budget can be adopted.

The school budget is frequently the last budget request submitted to commissioners on the county budget committee.

"The ones we have seen," Terry said of other department spending requests; "everybody is holding the line, and they say, 'And a raise, if you can."

Sumners acknowledged there have been no raises in recent years.

"We'd love to give the employees a raise," the commission chairman said.

The budget director complimented department directors who've already submitted their proposed budgets.

"Everybody has done a good job of biting the bullet," Terry said. "But we're going to have to buy an ambulance and some patrol cars...

"We did some negotiations on health insurance ... so the premiums didn't increase," she said.

The budget for the fiscal year ending this summer was passed with a total of $64,393,705 when it started about a year ago. The budget before that was for fiscal year 2009-10 and it was larger - $65,793,879.

Some departments are spending from reserves. One is the Solid Waste Department. Its revenues decreased drastically when Cedar Ridge Landfill stopped accepting deliveries. Waste Management took that step so a preset closure plan wouldn't have to be started when the landfill reaches its capacity before the state completes its decision on whether unused land, including a sinkhole, could be used to increase the property's capacity.

Another example of how tight the budget has been is at Circuit Court Clerk Elinor Brandon Foster's office where she decided a year ago to reduce the daily sum paid to jurors from $11 to $10.