Published on September 25th, 2023 | by Jordan Bankhead0
The State of Our City: “Money, Money…”
Money, Money… It makes the world go ‘round, it motivates people to get up in the morning, and it is of course necessary to operate a city. Money is where the rubber meets the road. Or in this case—money is what builds roads. And Oxford has grown exponentially in the last few years, meaning more money is necessary to fund that growth.
In the case of city government, that money inevitably comes from taxes. When a tax increase is considered, it is necessary to weigh the costs and benefits of that increase. Just recently, Oxonians voted to give schools more money. Now, the Board of Aldermen is proposing a tax increase to fund the costs of maintaining and building on its growth plans.
Lafayette County is the fastest growing county in Mississippi. And the University of Mississippi is currently experiencing breakneck growth. And our city’s infrastructure must support all that growth. And that requires money.
In 2018, Oxford annexed an additional 10 square miles and its total size grew to 26 square miles. $29 million has been spent in the last 5 years on water and sewer upgrades as a result of that annexation. And an additional $8 million has been budgeted for this year. In 2015, property taxes increased. In 2021 they actually decreased.
But now, according to the mayor, increased costs from inflation have made a tax increase necessary. A 5% property tax increase has as a result been proposed. The increase would occur in two phases, with the first being a 2 percent increase in July of 2024. The entire tax increase would be in place by 2028. This increase would help pay for items like equipment upgrades, a new city pool, police department, and higher labor costs. But of course this tax increase would also cost the citizens of Oxford more on their property tax bills.
It was notable that no citizens appeared to discuss the proposed tax increase at the Board of Aldermen meeting on September 5, 2023. This was in stark contrast to the lively public debate about a cross walk on South Lamar last month.
Perhaps taxes are considered passé to most people. But the fact is a 5% tax increase will cost property owners and their tenants (whose rents will increase) more money to live in Oxford. For a city already challenged by a high cost of living, one would think this at least merits a lively public debate. But for reasons known only to the Almighty, no one appeared to discuss the proposed tax increase. This lack of interest on the heels of the school tax increase may just mean people are resigned to both death and taxes.
Less debatable was the stellar financial performance of the city highlighted by Brian Wildman’s audit report on September 19. He reported city assets grew last year. Liabilities also increased to $144 million, partly as a result of a new state law requiring local governments to disclose public retirement liabilities.
The city is in the black, with $175 million in assets, a $6 million increase from last year. And revenue came in at $38 million, an increase of $5 million. Expenses were $37.9 million, an increase of $7 million. Sales taxes were $9 million, up an incredible $1.8 million or 16 percent on top of the previous year’s 15 percent increase. Tourism taxes also increased by $2 million or 38.9 % on top of a 32% increase the year before.
Given the increase in revenue from sales taxes and grants, the balanced budget shows how much spending has increased. Inflation, fellow Oxonians, is very real so buckle up!