Amite County supervisors lately have been touting the fact that theirs is the only county in Mississippi without any outstanding long-term debt — and the most recent state audits of the 81 other counties confirmed that.
Some counties carry outstanding debt ranging from thousands to tens of millions, according records available from the State Auditor’s office.
The audits of Mississippi counties reveal their debt load. State law mandates that county audits take place annually. However, Humphreys, Jasper, Kemper, Noxubee and Wilkinson counties have not submitted an audit since 2015, and Choctaw and Jefferson Counties have not submitted one since 2014.
Amite County, on the other hand, remains up to date with its obligations.
While operating with some baseline level of debt is not necessarily bad and is exceedingly common among county and municipal governments, it is notable that Amite County is operating without any debt other than mandated surety bonds for county employees valued at $1.8 million.
The report from the auditor’s office showed that Amite County had only one item listed in its finances in terms of debt — a capital lease on a backhoe loader that cost the county $95,531 in April 2016.
The deal carried a 1.95% interest rate and was scheduled to have been paid off in April of this year, and board president Jackie Whittington confirmed that the loan had reached maturity on time, leaving Amite County free of outstanding debt.
Although the county had the money to purchase the backhoe loader outright, supervisors decided to finance the purchase in order to allow the county a financial safety net of sorts while waiting for tax revenues to come in, Whittington said.
According to the county’s 2017 audit, the government was operating at $7.6 million with primary assets totaling $6.5 million. Total capital assets were more than $10.7 million. Disbursements, on the other hand, totaled just $6.8 million.
Whittington, who has served on the board since 1996, said he is proud of the progress supervisors have made.
“I’ve always tried to run the county business just like you would your own business,” he said.
Whittington also emphasized the progress made in the county in terms of essential services, such as the construction of the new Field Health Services hospital in Centreville and a new voting precinct in District 3.
It has also moved toward land acquisition in an effort to support economic development.
“When Georgia-Pacific shut down, it was devastating,” Whittington said of the effects of a mill closure in Gloster. “We’re doing all we can to try and help.”
One of the ways the board is looking to improve the economic development of Amite County is by finding new commercial outlets for timber as logging is the major industry throughout the area.
Whittington provided some insight into the workings and decision-making process of the board, indicating that they try their best to keep taxes as low as possible and to make road upkeep and bridge maintenance a high priority.
According to the most recent state audit, Amite County took in $3,974,909 in property taxes. With a population just over 13,000, according to the 2010 census, that leaves Amite County with a low per-capita tax rate.
Its overall millage rate is 77.44, which is the second-lowest in the state behind Winston County, which operates on 43.65 mills total.
Included in Amite County’s millage rate are 30.43 mills for the Amite County School District, which is operating just above the minimum 25 mills required by the state and significantly less than the 55-mill limit.
The board recently approved a $1.4 million bid to replace three bridges on Powell Road. TL Wallace Construction Co. of Columbia will be responsible for the project. The Emergency Road and Bridge Repair fund allocated $1.5 million toward the project.
At a recent meeting of the Amite County board of supervisors, Amite County engineer David Cothern said that the project would likely begin within two months of the contract being signed.
As the bid came in under-budget, the board of supervisors is now in the early stages of planning for repairs to a bridge on Poole Lane near the Homochitto River and plans to use leftover LSBP funds in the process. Whittington said the bridge allows access to a voting precinct and pretty much all essential services to residents of Poole Lane.
The bridge was originally constructed out of concrete and the pilings holding it up are apparently degrading, Whittington said.
“It’s needed, we have a bad piling underneath it,” Whittington said, explaining that if it were to be structurally compromised it could trap those who live down Poole Lane.