Change in Millage Questionable

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Mayor John Robert Smith has vetoed the Meridian City Council's action of reducing the ad valorem tax millage, after a different amount had previously been adopted. The action was based on an opinion from the attorney general's office that the reduction was not allowed.

The council had adopted a budget and set the millage on Sept. 20. The mayor signed the millage order and sent it to Jackson. Ten days later the council changed its mind and amended both the budget and the millage.

Assistant Attorney General Heather Wagner wrote in a letter to the city's law firm that it wasn't legal to do that.

"Once the millage rate has been duly and properly established by the governing authorities by resolution or ordinance, there is no statutory procedure for changing that millage," Wagner wrote. "It is the opinion of this office that the millage is duly and properly established at the time the resolution or ordinance is signed by the mayor."

In effect, the council can amend the budget but cannot change the millage rate after the mayor signs it, which he did immediately after the first meeting. Council president Mary Perry said she expected the ruling.

"The law says that once you have put something in and it had gone in, once you put something in whether it's ad valorem taxes or things of that nature you don't change them," said Perry. "You set the millage for the year and that's what happened."

Councilwoman Barbara Henson, who voted in favor of the council's action at the time, said, "We thought we had something done and according to the attorney general's ruling we're back to where we were we started on the 20th of September. So we're going to have to do some thinking and come up with something by the next council meeting."

That meeting is next Tuesday. Council member Bobby Smith said late Wednesday afternoon he had no problem with the ruling and it would have to be observed.

The net affect would be a budget that would add back the two mills originally adopted and the proposed $273,000 in cuts already made would be reduced. The increase of 8 percent in water rates will stand.