The Harrison County Commissioners’ Court on Wednesday unanimously adopted a $32 million budget and $0.3548 per $100 tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year.
“This budget will raise more revenue than last year’s budget by $354,116 or 1.52 percent. Of that amount, $152,939.78 is tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year,” Harrison County Judge Chad Sims said.
A memo from Judge Sims, County Auditor Becky Haynes and County Clerk Liz James notes that the budget includes the general, jury, road and bridge, airport, juvenile, interest and sinking and permanent improvement funds, which receive ad valorem tax revenue, as well as other funds administered by the county.
“The tax revenues are distributed based on a tax levy of $0.3548 per $100 assessed valuation,” the officials explained. “Estimated disbursements for maintenance and operations from all funds included in the budget total $32,012,932.”
Judge Sims pointed out there there’s no change to the tax rate, but there are some additional new properties that have been added to the county’s tax rolls as well as some increases in property valuations.
As a result, home valuations went up about two percent.
“We did see a slight rise in the projected overall tax collection,” said Sims. “On an average home, for 2019, was $104,000; in 2020, that went up to $107,000. For that average cost, that’s a two percent increase and the tax on that average homestead went up by $8. So (it’s an) $8 (property tax) increase on a $100,000 home.”
Related to the budget, the court discussed the need to upgrade the pay scale for county employees in the future.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Jay Ebarb said the issue’s been only a discussion for years and it was time to act.
“I think we need to update it as far as where it’s at now. To ask an employee to wait three years to get a one percent increase ... after three years, they get three percent. I think we need to study that,” said Ebarb. “I think it’s causing our salaries to lag somewhat.”
“We’ve talked about this several years. It’s time to act on it,” said Ebarb. “I would very much like to see us address this once we catch our breath from getting the new year started.”
Pct. 2 Commissioner Zephaniah Timmins said he’s discussed the issue with Judge Sims, who plans to put a committee together to explore what can be done.
Pct. 1 Commissioner William Hatfield said he’d like to see the step and pay scale adjusted, too. Hatfield noted that the county has, however, made great strides in upping county employees’ pay during his tenure on the court.
“Since I’ve sat in this seat, if you were an employee of Harrison County in 2013 and you’re still an employee in the 2021 budget year, your gross pay is $5,600 more than it was when I originally sat in this seat,” he said. “That is warp speed with county government. I know that, used to, when we got the $800 raise we would end up losing something or forfeiting something and I fought for years to get this $1,200.
“I want to thank this court, and thank Judge Sims, the auditor’s office and everyone that was involved in helping to get these salaries up to where it’s a livable wage,” Hatfield added.
Judge Sims said, along those same lines, he’d like to work on getting county retirees a cost of living increase, too.
“I know our retirees have not had a cost of living increase in a number of years, maybe it’s close to 10 years now, and certainly that is something our court is very interested in addressing,” Judge Sims said. “We don’t want our retirees to think we’ve not considered them at all because we do and we’re working on that.”
In other business, the court approved a resolution changing the commissioners’ court meetings from every other Wednesday to every other Tuesday, starting Oct. 1.
The court also approved the appointment of 13 members to the Child Welfare Board. Those who will serve one-year-terms, ending Aug. 31, 2021, are: Madison Hood, Ashley Madden and Louraiseal McDonald. Those serving two-year terms, ending Aug. 31, 2022 are: LaDarius Carter, Janie Hill and Chanda Johnson.