September 15, 2020 9:43:43 AM
Tess Vrbin - [email protected]
Oktibbeha supervisors unanimously approved the $44.5 million Fiscal Year 2021 budget Monday, raising property tax millage by 0.03 mills, from 123.57 to 123.60.
The revenue from the millage increase will benefit the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, County Administrator Emily Garrard said.
Mills are used to calculate property taxes, and the county determines each year how many property tax mills to levy. Residents of Starkville, Maben and Sturgis will pay a 120.20-mill rate -- up from 120.17 -- because residents of those municipalities do not have to fund Oktibbeha County Volunteer Fire Services.
A homeowner not using a Homestead exemption will pay an additional 30 cents per $100,000 of assessed value, and commercial properties will pay more.
Starkville residents also face a 2-mill hike next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1, to make up for half of an anticipated $1.1 million budget shortfall after sales tax revenue took a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county budget's decrease of about $4.6 million from the current fiscal year's $49.1 million budget came largely from a $5.2 million decrease in special revenue and agency funds, according to budget documents provided at the meeting. Special revenue funds pay for dedicated projects, while the general fund takes care of typical expenses.
Total revenue decreased from $109.6 million this year to a projected $106.5 million next year, with property tax revenue increasing from 44.3 percent to a projected 47.7 percent of total revenue, according to budget documents provided at the meeting.
The assessed value of county property grew by more than $20 million, about 4.5 percent, from last year to this year. Almost $14.5 million of that is new growth rather than increased value of existing property, $10.5 million is city growth -- nearly $40,000 in the towns of Maben and Sturgis -- and the remaining $4 million is in the rest of the county.
The SOCSD Board of Trustees requested nearly $28 million in tax revenue, an increase of $1.2 million from last year.
"We were prepared not to have a tax increase, but it's within (the district's) right to levy that tax," Board President and District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said.
'An innocent dog'
Representatives from the Oktibbeha County Humane Society, with defense attorney C. Marty Haug speaking for them, presented supervisors with their side of a story that local farmer Lamar Simmons told them at last week's meeting about a dog that killed several animals on several farms including his own.
Simmons claimed the 100-pound German Shepherd fit the definition of a "vicious dog" in the county's ordinance, which defines it as one "with a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack, when unprovoked, to cause injury or otherwise endanger the safety of human beings, domestic dogs, livestock or poultry."
Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Office has the authority to enforce the vicious dog ordinance, but Simmons said he was under the impression that the Humane Society intervened and shipped the dog to another state without notifying him.
Simmons did not attend Monday's meeting.
Haug said the Humane Society did in fact take care of the dog after Simmons shot it in the face, and it turned out to be "a really sweet dog" that did not attack humans or other dogs. It ended up in another dog's kennel by accident, and the two dogs were "hanging out like they were buddies" while a vicious dog would have gone on the offensive, Haug said.
"This dog was an innocent dog that got shot in the face, and once (the Humane Society) got it, they could evaluate that and determine that was the case," said Haug, who is also the District 3 Justice Court Judge.
Board Attorney Rob Roberson confirmed to The Dispatch that the dog was sent to another state to be adopted. Montgomery asked if potential new owners would be aware of the dog's previous behavior, and Haug said it would all be in the veterinary records.
Both Simmons and Montgomery said last week that they would like to see the county's vicious dog ordinance strengthened, and Montgomery repeated this again Monday, but Haug warned against it, saying each animal should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
"You've got to be careful trying to make something black and white," Haug said. "When you run into mandatories, it never works out well. The only reasonable way to do it is to have (the animal) evaluated by professionals."
The board unanimously approved an interlocal agreement with the city of Starkville to clean debris out of Skinner Creek just south of the city.
David Kennard, executive director of the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District, came before the board to explain the process for notifying the agency of a project. The Tupelo-based state agency does flood control, cleanup and repair projects on waterways of all sizes in 13 northeast Mississippi counties, and membership for those counties costs $133,000 per year.
Kennard told the board in June that the agency completes multiple projects per year in each county, rotating from north to south and working on the projects each county deems most important. He said Monday, in response to the board's concerns, that a project only takes years to complete if the county fails to finish all the necessary paperwork.
"It's not because we're not willing to do the work," Kennard said. "It's because they have easements that one or two people don't want to sign."
The agency can send a project manager to evaluate a creek at the county's request and help write the resolution authorizing the cleanup project, he said.
The supervisors also voted unanimously to extend the curfew, from midnight to 4 a.m., until the next meeting on Oct. 5. They approved the curfew last week in an effort to curb large parties, including block parties, which Sheriff Steve Gladney said had been happening frequently despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Gladney said Monday that the curfew has been effective so far and there were no large parties this past weekend.
"We went back and checked our calls from a couple weeks ago, and there were 200 on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday," he said. "This past weekend they were down to 105."