Itawamba County Board of Supervisors asked to decrease spending, not increase taxes

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

The fallout from a possible countywide tax increase has already begun.

The Itawamba County Board of Supervisors recently entertained a visit from New Salem Community resident Leo Roeske, who expressed his concerns about a tax increase that may be implemented next year. Talk of an increase was spurred by a decrease in the county’s assessed evaluation coupled with a requested increase to the school’s tax intake.

Needless to say, Roeske was concerned.

“My retirement check has actually decreased,” he said. “Whether it’s state or federal or county taxes, it’s just having a major impact on everybody.”

Stating that a tax increase would hurt both the retired and low income communities already struggling with the floundering economy, Roeske asked the board to find a way to circumvent the county’s financial problems without increasing the ad valorem tax rate.

“When property values and car tags go down, that means the economy probably isn’t in the best shape,” Roeske told the board. “You guys have to find a way to decrease spending rather than raise taxes.”

Roeske also took issue with the amount of money being requested by the school district. Using some simple math, he deduced that Itawamba County taxpayers are spending $7,777 per student, per year — approximately $187,000 per classroom of 24 students.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for education,” he said. “But that’s a lot of money. I think there’s got to be a way to readjust this so that our kids can get the best education they can, but without the expense.”

Roeske came armed with what some may view as a controversial suggestion for generating tax dollars:

“Let’s invent a new tax; it’s called an ‘alcoholic beverage tax,” he said, suggesting the board do away with beer and liquor ban. “Allowing the sale of alcohol in Itawamba County … would definitely bring in a lot of tax money and the only people who will end up being taxed heavier are the people buying alcohol.”

Touting that allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages would bring in both new businesses and residents, Roeske said too many tax dollars are lost to surrounding cities without alcohol laws.

“People go to Tupelo now to buy whatever they want to drink,” he said. “All that money leaves our county; all that sales tax goes to Tupelo when it could stay here.

“I know there are a lot of what people might think are down’s to this … but it’s not going to increase the drinking problems of Itawamba County,” Roeske added. “If there’s a problem, it’s already here. The people just drive to Tupelo to buy it anyway.”

Although supervisors sympathized with Roeske, they claimed there was little they could do to avoid a tax increase, especially in light of the school’s district’s request for a tax increase.

“The assessed value of the county went down, which means a mill of tax won’t bring in as much as last year,” Holley said, adding that this loss in ad valorem dollars is gut punch to an already reeling budget. “If we have a shortfall, we’ve got two options: Decrease spending or raise taxes.”

Holley added that he believes the county budget has been cut to the bone.

Additionally, the board told Roeske that even if alcohol were legalized, the county’s general fund would see none of the additional sales tax dollars.

“All that sales tax goes to the state,” Holley said. “Counties don’t get that.”

The board will vote on the 2011-2012 budget — and any tax increases it may entail — in September.

Adam Armour can be reached at 862-3141, by e-mailing adam.armour@journalinc.com or by visiting his blog at itawamba360.com.