Rankin First funds questioned

Lisa Shoemaker, spokeswoman for State Auditor Stacey Pickering, said the county contacted her office and the attorney general’s office for help in remedying the improper tax. Shoemaker said her office has no plans to retroactively take action for two reasons: the county notified them of the mistake and the auditor’s office received no formal complaints.

After becoming aware of the mistake this year, county officials published their intent to levy the tax and will vote today on whether to add it to this year’s list of levies, which already total 36.15 mills per county property owner.

The board learned the levy was void in October when a former board attorney sent a letter to the tax collector’s office, stating that supervisors had disregarded state law that requires public bodies to publish a notice of the intent to levy.

John Toney, board attorney from 1996-2002, and other residents have asked the board not to fund Rankin First, calling it a waste of money. Toney said he brought the issue to the supervisors’ attention to give them a way out of funding Rankin First.

Among his criticisms, he pointed out the group’s spending of more than $50,000 a year on a suite in Trustmark Park, home of Atlanta’s Class AA baseball team, the Mississippi Braves.

“If you’re taking advantage of a situation that every taxpayer can’t participate in, just don’t do it,” Toney said earlier this month.

Rankin First has three avenues of funding: ad valorem taxes, hotel taxes and private donations.

The money that pays for the suite came from the 2.5 percent hotel tax, not ad valorem taxes. The revenue from ad valorem taxes funds the day-to-day operations of the group, Rankin First Board Chairman Noel Daniels said.

Clarion Ledger