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Analysis: Mississippi supervisors targeting salary bills, tax proposals for defeat

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JACKSON, Mississippi — The Mississippi Association of Supervisors is rallying the rank and file to oppose several bills making their way through the 2015 Legislature.

Among them are bills to boost the salaries of court reporters, constables and sheriffs. The association considers them unfunded mandates. All appear to have overwhelming support in the Legislature.

The association lobbies on behalf of the state's 410 locally elected supervisors before the Legislature and other governmental bodies.

In addition, the association is opposing tax breaks for seniors and disabled persons because there are too many unknowns about how the legislation would impact the counties.

House Bill 216 would freeze assessed values of homes owned by senior citizens and disabled people unless their homes are renovated or expanded. It has passed the House and awaits debate in a Senate committee.

Taxes could still rise if local governments raise property tax rates.

Homestead exemption is an ongoing issue before the Legislature. Under homestead exemption, the state encourages people to own homes by exempting the houses from some property taxes. The state reimburses counties and cities for lost tax revenues. County officials argue those payments have not kept pace with the actual tax revenues lost.

Currently, regular taxpayers get an exemption on up to the first $300 in taxes. People older than 65 and those who are totally disabled get an exemption from taxes on their first $75,000 in value.

However, with baby boomers entering retirement, the counties, cities and schools expect to take a hit in their primary funding source — property taxes.

Steve Gray, director of government affairs for the supervisors' group, said county supervisors are opposing the measure because it will deprive counties of needed tax money, or shift tax burdens onto others.

Lawmakers abandoned a plan in 2014 to increase the general homestead exemptions from $300 a year to $360 a year after House leaders decided its $69 million price tag was too steep. The state is supposed to pay for $100 of the regular exemption, but generally appropriates less.

Other bills on the supervisors association target list are:

— House Bill 1049, to increase the salary for court reporters based on their experience. It was passed by the House. MAS says the bill provides some funding from the state for one circuit or chancery court reporter, but it's likely the county will be on the hook for paying others.

— House Bill 939, to increase the fee paid to election commissioners for work on nonelection days from $84 per day to $100. It has passed the House.

— House Bill 1319, to increase fees collected by constables. It has passed the House.

— Senate Bill 2390, to give sheriffs more money for "attempted service" of notices, which happens when a sheriff goes to serve a legal notice but cannot find the recipient. The law would allow the sheriff to collect a $35 fee for all attempts, and an additional $5 for every extra defendant in the household. It has passed the Senate.

— Senate Bill 2550, to allow cities and counties — not mandate — to use general fund or other taxpayer money to make tax increment financing bond payments when in danger of defaulting.

Tax increment financing allows cities and counties to borrow money for industrial development projects and the loans are repaid from taxes collected from the projects after they are completed. MAS said the bill would not require cities and counties to do anything differently, but it could allow for what could be bailouts with tax money.

Last October, Madison County was unable to pay its November bond payment of $90,000 on a TIF bond. The county decided to restructure the payments in order to avoid default.

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