Medlin and Lynchard discuss budget

DeSoto County Supervisor President Jesse Medlin and County Administrator Vanessa Lynchard discuss particulars of the county budget during a break in the board's most recent meeting in Hernando.  

After several weeks of paring and poring, adding and adjusting a torrent of numbers, the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors expects to have a budget proposal of $119.16 million in total expenditures ready for a public hearing and comment from taxpayers at the panel's next regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

In going over budget requests, supervisors denied more than $900,000 in budgetary increases.

Budget highlights include:

No tax increase, as county departments were urged to turn in flat budgets and limit requests for increases.

Total Sheriff's Department expenditures of some $20.7 million. A $207,000 increase for patrol/law enforcement will aid purchase of 19 Ford Interceptor SUVs, a Tahoe SUV and two motorcycles to replace aging vehicles. By applying revenue sources and cuts to other line items, Sheriff Bill Rasco trimmed the original $643,350 increase by more than two-thirds. Total expenditures for patrol/law enforcement come to $11.977 million.

More for the Road Management Department for road upkeep and maintenance, with expenditures at $20.18 million, a 94 percent increase that includes state and federal funds not reflected in previous budgets. County-funded projects include improvements for Armory Road, $750,000; and Swinnea Road, $3 million.

Plus, there's $30,000 more for the First Regional Library system for new laptop computers for patron use. First Regional Director Ed Hughes had asked a $60,000 increase from Desoto. The supervisors said they could manage half that "as a one-time increase, not a base-line for next year," in the words of Supervisor Mark Gardner of Southaven, and the board expressed hope the system's other counties can pony up extra dollars.

An uptick in the revenue forecast, as reported by Tax Assessor Parker Pickle, helped allow tentative approval for many, though not all, increases requested by departments and outside agencies, as well as for a proposed 3 percent raise for about 550 county employees. Under the state law, the supervisors must give final budget approval by Sept. 15 for the blueprint that governs the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

"We got done with just about everything," said County Administrator Vanessa Lynchard this week after number-crunching on General Fund and Interfund Transfer items wrapped up at a budget workshop Monday that began at 6 p.m. and ended about 10:30 p.m.

Tasks remaining, Lynchard said, were "putting all the changes together, and coming up with exact numbers. "The important thing is, the board, having reviewed all the line items, knows just what it wants to do."

The public hearing is set during the meeting next week that starts at 9 a.m. in the supervisors' third-floor hearing room of the County Administration Building at 365 Losher St. in downtown Hernando.

Supervisor Jessie Medlin of Olive Branch, board president and senior member in his seventh four-year term, said this probably marks his 25th budget "and they're not getting any easier. We're getting a bit more revenue this year, but if you get it, everybody wants it."

Medlin said keeping up with streets, law enforcement and court needs in Mississippi's fastest-growing county presents a continuing challenge.

An added area of public interest is the county's system of parks, which the supervisors addressed by using budgeted funding to set up the initial financial framework for a county-run parks department in place of the Recreational District set-up in partnership with the Desoto Economic Development Council.

An allocation of $135,375 that formerly went to the Council for greenways now goes directly to the Recreational District budget. Park projects during Fiscal 2017 include development of the Hawks Crossing Park, boosted by the transfer from the General Fund of $90,000 held in reserve for that purpose; and a grant-funded, $210,000 overlook at Hernando Desoto Park. Also, work on improvements to Johnson Creek Greenway will proceed with $1 million in Mississippi Department of Transportation grant funds and county match.

A parks department "is something I believe we need to address public concerns and everyday needs in our parks," said Supervisor Lee Caldwell of Nesbit. The vision for the department includes maintaining greenways, but looking to partnering with the cities for a seamless, cross-jurisdictional approach.

The budget also adjusts to accommodate a $5 million, five-year program to update the county's software, said Lynchard. "We have wonderful, user-friendly software" at present, she said, but it's been maintained by a programmer, "and now computer programmers are a dying breed." Plus, said Lynchard, "our system doesn't have the statistical capability we'd like it to have."

Among other allocations tentatively approved are these to agencies providing services:

House of Grace ministry for victims of domestic abuse, $26,650; Healing Hearts Child Advocacy Center for victims of sex abuse, $10,000; DeSoto 4-H Club activities for youth, $7,250; 4-H Equine Program, $4,000; Northwest Livestock Association, $550;

Arkabutla Physically Challenged Hunting Association, $500; Sheriff's Department public outreach, $5,500; The Arc Northwest Mississippi social services, $5,000; DeSoto County Museum, $35,000; DeSoto Arts Council, $14,621; Volunteer Northwest Mississippi, a Community Foundation program, $3,656; and Olive Branch Arts Council, $3,656.

Budget preparation was coordinated by Lynchard and county staff including Chief Financial Officer Andrea Freeze. For each session, concise budget updates with figures and at-a-glance uses were on hand.

"The way Andrea handled it, in a user-friendly way without those long spreadsheets, really helped us," said Supervisor Michael Lee of Hernando.

To craft the budget package the supervisors met eight times in August, including two regular meetings. State law allows supervisors a maximum of 10 meetings in a month.

"We didn't exceed the meeting cap, but we were knocking on the door," said Lynchard.

The supervisors meet on Tuesday at 9 a.m. in the board's third-floor hearing room at the DeSoto County Administration Building at 365 Losher St. in downtown Hernando.

Henry Bailey is Contributing Writer and Copy Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He can be contacted at hbailey@desototimestribune.com and at 662-429-6397, Ext. 241.

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