Ward 2 Alderman and Budget Committee Chair Sandra Sistrunk talks to aldermen and city officials about the proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget during a budget work session Tuesday in City Hall. The city is considering a millage increase to keep cost with expected expenditure increases for the next budget year. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
August 8, 2018 10:59:48 AM
The city of Starkville is looking at an "operational" millage increase to keep pace with rising costs as discussions begin for the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.
Aldermen met for a budget work session Tuesday, before the regularly-scheduled board meeting. During the work session, Ward 2 Alderman and Budget Committee Chair Sandra Sistrunk outlined the proposed budget for the next fiscal year that calls for about $21.77 million in expenditures -- a nearly $800,000 increase from last year's expenses.
To generate the new revenue, Sistrunk proposed a 1.05 mill increase in city taxes, from the current 25.58 mills to 26.63 mills. The city is expecting the value of its mills to increase this year from $235,000-$240,000, depending on the collection rate, to about $255,000. That change, Sistrunk said, should raise about $460,000. A 1.05 mill increase in taxes would generate another $266,000, and other revenue changes, such as grants or changes elsewhere in the budget, should generate about $110,000, for a total of $836,000 in new funding.
Mills are used to calculate property taxes. Ad valorem tax revenue is based on the assessed value of real and personal property. So, the value of one mill helps public entities, such as counties, cities and school districts, determine how many mills to levy in taxes each year.
Sistrunk said Starkville has been generally reluctant to raise its millage, which has increased from 20 mills in FY 11 to 25.58 for the current fiscal year. While she said it's possible the city could get revenue from internet sales taxes, if the Legislature allows diversions to cities from that revenue, or regular sales taxes, which are currently budgeted to remain flat, it has to look to other areas to increase funding as it grows.
"If we want to bring our parks and our streets up to where they need to be, there's going to have to be funding for them," she said. "We possibly could get some use tax moneys or sales taxes could start to eke back up but the number we can control is our ad valorem taxes.
"It's unrealistic to think that we can operate on the increases we've seen from Fiscal Year 11 to Fiscal Year 19," she later added. "It's unrealistic to think we can continue to grow and provide a level of service that people want us to provide and expect at a flat ad valorem tax rate."
The city will hold a pair of public hearings on the proposed budget, at the Aug. 21 and Sept. 4 regular board meetings at 5:30 p.m.
The largest change, accounting for about half of the increase, is for the city's parks system. The budget currently calls for a $440,000 increase in expenditures for the parks and recreation department.
"My idea is ... to get the current parks across the city to the position that they need to be in," Sistrunk said. "As we get that done, we can start to transition that to a new facility at Cornerstone (on Highway 25). Once our parks are up to speed, it should take us less to maintain them than it's going to cost to get them up to where they need to be."
Sistrunk said that, while $440,000 seems like a big funding increase, it might not go as far as it would seem, with drainage issues around some soccer fields and playground and other upgrades needed at some parks.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said the spending gets the city started on work for improvements to the parks that are in line with the city's master plan for its parks system.
"We're not going to do things to the parks that we would then end up having to undo for the plan," Spruill said. "This is just things that are clearly in need that won't be impacted by a new park if that's where we go, which is what we want to do."
Additional increases in the proposed budget include $138,000 interest on bonds issued for capital projects, $110,000 for chip seal road projects and a $40,000 increase in payments for the Public Employees Retirement System of Mississippi.
The proposed budget has about $52,750 in increased outside contributions. Sistrunk said that includes transitioning in budgeting cash payments to the Starkville-MSU Area Rapid Transit system, rather than in-kind services. She said she budgeted about $50,000 for that. It also includes an increase from $10,000 to $20,000 for the Mississippi Horse Park to return the city to its FY 16 levels of support for the facility.
The proposed budget also includes $55,000 in increased departmental funding. The Starkville Police Department is seeking, and aldermen approved during Tuesday's regular meeting, to begin a promotion process to fill its positions for lieutenants, sergeants and captains. That's estimated to cost about $40,000 in increased pay.
The city's information technology department is also requesting $15,000 for new security cameras.
A person younger than 65 years old in a $75,000 with a homestead exemption would see a roughly $8 per year tax increase from the mill hike. Someone in the same home without a homestead exemption or someone with a commercial property would see a $13 per year increase. A person in the same home who is 65 years old or older, or is disabled, would see no change.
Someone in a $150,000 home with a homestead exemption would see a change of slightly more than $15. A person who is 65 or older, or disabled, in a $150,000 home would see an increase of about $8. A resident without a homestead exemption in a $150,000 home or commercial property would see an increase of about $22 per year.
A person in a $350,000 home with a homestead exemption would see a roughly $35 increase. Someone in the same home who is 65 or older, or disabled, would see a roughly $28 per year increase. A commercial property or home without a homestead exemption would see a roughly $55 increase.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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