Supervisors discuss courthouse project, millage rate increase

Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 4:14 PM CDT
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MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - Property taxes in Lauderdale County just got a little more expensive. The increase by 4 mills has everything to do with the new courthouse project on 22nd Ave.

This is the first tax increase in more than a decade and supervisors say they had no choice.

The new courthouse complex comes with a hefty price tag, $40 to $50 million. Spending that money isn’t easy and that’s why Lauderdale County supervisors say increasing the millage rate was necessary.

“People have made suggestions about why we had to raise taxes and we didn’t save that money,” Dist. 1 Supervisor Jonathan Wells said. “It’s kind of hard to take a several decades old problem and ask us to save that kind of money in a few years to pay for a project like that. The only way to do that is to raise our millage.”

At the time of the vote, only three supervisors were present. Jonathan Wells, Kyle Rutledge and Wayman Newell all voted in favor of the increase.

“We did not want to raise taxes,” Dist. 5 Supervisor Kyle Rutledge. “I’ve been here ten years and never have. I believe the board hasn’t since 2008. Where we were put, we had to. We cut numerous things. It was looking like much more than that, but the board had to.”

For years, grand jury after grand jury made it clear there were numerous issues with the current courthouse. Everything from leaky ceilings, falling ceiling tiles to paint peeling off the walls. Supervisors say a new courthouse was a must, even if it means an increase in taxes.

“I have kept every grand jury report,” Dist. 2 Supervisor Wayman Newell explained. “I have a stack that’s between three and a half and four inches tall of where the grand jury has belittled the supervisors for not doing something about the county courthouse.”

Over the years supervisors looked at several other options, including renovating the current courthouse. In January of 2019, supervisors asked companies to bid on a structural study, but only one company responded to the request.

The Department of Archives and History felt like that company wasn’t qualified to hold the study. At the time, supervisors wanted to know if the jail on top of the courthouse was causing structural issues to the floors below.

“The economy and the needs, it just is what it is. We are sorry, but that’s what we had to do,” Rutledge said.

the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. A portion of the courthouse complex is expected to open next summer.

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