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County residents face higher tax bill

By Staff
WATCHING IN SILENCE Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie listens as county supervisors discuss the budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. This year, Sollie and other county department heads were not allowed to discuss their budget requests with supervisors and don't know how much money they'll have to spend. Photo by Kyle Carter/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Sept. 16, 2003
Lauderdale County residents who live outside the city of Meridian will see their county property taxes increase slightly next year after county supervisors approved a $31.3 million budget Monday.
Information provided by the county shows that owners of a $100,000 home will pay $5.80 more in taxes if they live outside the city and $14.10 more if they live outside the city but inside the city school district.
At the same time, residents who live in the city will see their county property taxes decrease slightly. Information provided by the county shows that owners of a $100,000 home will see their taxes drop $5.60.
County Administrator Rex Hiatt went over the budget in a public hearing, showing a $7.9 million beginning cash balance, projected revenues of $29.5 million, projected expenditures of $31.3 million and an ending cash balance of $6.2 million.
The budget also includes a 3 percent across-the-board pay raise for county employees. And it will funnel more money to the garbage fund, which had its money reduced a year ago.
Hiatt said the garbage fee of $60 per household will remain the same including a $30 exemption for senior citizens and free pick-up for disabled citizens.
Supervisors vote
Supervisors voted for the budget without providing the public or county department heads many details including how much money each county department will have to spend next year.
The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
District 3 Supervisor Craig Hitt, president of the board of supervisors, said department heads including Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie should know how much money they will have "in a few days."
District 5 Supervisor Ray Boswell was the only supervisor to vote against the budget. He said he opposed the tax increase.
About 30 people attended the public hearing. Several citizens expressed concerns after the budget hearing, mainly having to do with what they consider to be unfair property appraisals.
Hitt said the appraisal process is being studied.
The largest category of spending during Hiatt's presentation was "Public Safety," totaling about $9 million. But Hiatt explained that category includes law enforcement, the county jail, fire protection and ambulance service.
Sollie's concerns
Sollie said he doesn't know how much of that money will go to his department. He said he had to submit his budget in writing and did not have a chance to discuss it with the board during budget meetings.
At a supervisor's work session last week, Sollie said he made a plea for new patrol cars as he has done the last couple of years. But he said that request fell on deaf ears.
Last month, before budget meetings by the board began, Hitt said department heads would be included in the process.
On Monday he confirmed that all department heads submitted their budgets in writing and that their requests were not discussed further with the board.
Hitt said some department heads asked to address the board during budget meetings. He said he brought the requests before the other supervisors, but that none of them showed an interest in meeting with them.