The Jones County Board of Supervisors adopted a $50 million budget on Tuesday for the next fiscal year, which will begin October 1. Of the total amount, $29.9 million will be appropriated for county operations and funds, while $20.7 million is allocated for school purposes, including the Jones County School District and Jones College. The total tax levy for the 2019-2020 fiscal year is $50,652,604 – up from the current fiscal year total of $48,713,736.
Projected expenses are $49,070,111 for the upcoming fiscal year, compared to $46,751,370 for FY 2018-2019. Fifty-four percent of the total revenue the county is projected to spend will go toward education with the general fund (27%), roads and bridges (8%) and debt service (7%) the next highest categories.
The largest proposed expenditures for the county in fiscal year 2019-2020 include the following: Roads and bridges maintenance ($7.51 million); buildings and road/bridges repair and construction ($4.839 million); bond I&S repayment ($4.517 million); sheriff budget ($3.561 million); emergency management ($2.742 million); courts ($2.572 million); adult jail ($2.358 million) and garbage service ($2.344 million).
About 65 percent of the budget revenue will come from property taxes, with other significant revenue sources including the State of Mississippi chipping in 11 percent, local sources adding 9 percent, and fees for services (includes garbage service fees) lending 8 percent.
Several concerned citizens attended the meeting Tuesday to express their concerns about the budget layout or related issues.
Sherman Smith, who said he has a young son attending Moselle Elementary School, told the supervisors that he wanted them to channel more funding to public school security in the county. He said a teacher at MES told him the current active shooter strategy in place at the campus is to steer the kids to a bathroom, turn out the lights and keep quiet. The school building doors would also lock-down. Smith asked the supervisors if they had ever thought about how young students in a blacked out bathroom would react with a gun going off at their school.
“This is serious, folks,” he said. “It can happen today . . . Do you know how many kids can be killed by an assault rifle on a playground in three minutes?”
The father then referenced Sheriff Alex Hodge’s previous request for $1.2 million in his budget last year to buy cars and hire deputies to cover the county’s 11 school campuses. He said he understood that the supervisors were willing to spend around $700,000 last year for additional school safety, but not $1.2 million.
“This $1.2 million is first and foremost, and then after that we’ll decide our budget for anything else. I don’t care if it’s a road that’s been left undone – leave it undone,” he stated. “The most valuable buildings we have in Jones County are these school buildings, anything to do with our children.”
Smith then conveyed that he had talked to Jones County School District Superintendent Tommy Parker, and he said Parker was willing to carve $400,000 out of his budget somewhere to help fund the school security. Smith asked the supervisors if they would pay for the rest.
Chancery Court Clerk Bart Gavin and Beat 1 Supervisor Johnny Burnett suggested that Smith go meet with the Jones County School Board and see if they would put into a written motion their willingness to spend the $400,000 to help fund school security. Without the Board’s approval, Parker can’t just allocate the money, they offered.
“Tommy is just the superintendent,” noted Burnett. “He can’t give $400,000 for this (without the Board’s consent). That would be like me (as a supervisor) saying I’ll give a million dollars to this group or to that group. Once their Board puts it in a motion and sends it up here to us, then we can work with them.”
Gavin also wanted to know if the school district would be willing to spend the $400,000 annually, not just the initial year.
Lisa Pittman Windham also addressed the Board, pointing out her concerns about extra monies being allocated to the EDA for next year’s youth World Series, to the fairgrounds for security, and to the Tax Assessor’s Office for additional cars. She wanted to know if the EDA and the Fair Commission would reimburse the county after they collected revenue from the events the county was investing in through them.
EDA President Ross Tucker, Tax Assessor Ramona Blackledge and a couple of the supervisors attempted to address her concerns, primarily pointing out that investments in local entities and events generate extra revenue for local businesses. Tucker said thousands of “outside” dollars are produced from events like the World Series, and he stated that each of those additional dollars circulate about seven times in the area.
“It’s a big bang for our community,” he said.
Other action taken by the supervisors Tuesday included:
*The supervisors discussed buying three new fire trucks for the county’s aging VFD fleet, but CFO Charles Miller said the payment on those vehicles would not be due until 2021. The three volunteer fire departments scheduled to receive a new truck are Soso, Sharon and South Jones. The trucks will likely be purchased on a 7-year lease-purchase arrangement, and Miller said the state would pay part of the costs.
“State grants will pay a portion of this, so the key question here today is where do we get this million dollars from?” asked Miller about the remainder not covered by the state. The trucks will cost roughly $400,000 each. If the trucks are ordered now, they would arrive in the spring of next year. Two percent of next year’s county budget is dedicated to the volunteer fire departments.
*Hearing the annual service report from South Mississippi Planning & Development District Director Leonard Bentz. SMPDD is involved with 38 municipal governments over 15 counties and assists with workforce development, employment searches for residents, business loans, and services to senior citizens, among other things. Jones County contributed $74,000 to SMPDD last year.
*Recognized correspondence from the Office of State Aid Road Construction authorizing the transfer of $23,336 to the county to help with several road reseal projects.
*Acknowledged receipt of the South Central Regional Medical Center operating budget, which was $186.2 million.
*Received a bid for $7,500 from Ellis Dozer Service LLC for the purchase of steel beams that will be used on the Ellisville-Tucker’s Crossing bridge.
*Appointed Edwin Todd (Beat 2) and Billy Sanders (Beat 4) to the South Mississippi Fair Commission.