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County passes 2021 budget and millage, slight cuts made in County General Fund

by J.D. Bailey on 11/17/20

The Columbia County Quorum Court on Monday unanimously passed the county’s 2021 operating budget. The county’s Finance Committee, which is made up of the 11 local justices of the peace, spent numerous hours in prior meetings compiling a balanced budget for next year.

In the budget, projected expenditures are $14,276,413. The largest single line item for 2021 is the county’s General Fund at $4,169,868. The General Fund contains expenditures for personnel and daily operations for most county government offices. 

Next year’s General Fund budget comes in nearly $87,000 (2%) under the 2020 projected budget. One of the largest cuts occurs in the Columbia County County Assessor’s office. In 2020, the projected budget for the office was $516,913. The 2021 budget, however, is projected at $482,282 in expenditures, equating to a cut of nearly $35,000. The office is the second biggest line item in the 2021 General Fund Budget. The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office at $1,155,144, is the largest item for next year in the fund. Unlike the County Assessor’s office, though, the law enforcement office saw a $32,500 increase in budget from 2020 to 2021.

Other six-figure sub-fund expenditures in the 2021 General Fund include the following:

  • Circuit Clerk: $375,249
  • County Clerk: $301,978
  • County Special Projects: $310,000
  • County Collector: $265,241
  • Equalization Board: $212,160
  • County Buildings: $162,496
  • County Treasurer: $142,421
  • County Judge: $103,364

The county's next largest budget funds are the Road Fund at $3.35 million and the Solid Waste Fund at $2.65 million. These budgeted expenditures are separate from the County General Fund. The Jail Fund at $1.54 million is the only other seven-figure budgeted fund for 2021.

The county’s Special Project Fund, which is funded through the Columbia County General Fund millage, makes up $886,700 of the 2021 budget. None of the monies in that fund, however, are budgeted for expenditure next year. The fund was set up in 2018 as a mechanism to put back funds for special projects, such as large, unforeseen expenses at the Columbia County Detention Center, or to help save for a new facility altogether.

The local jail has been one of the most difficult county expenses for the Quorum Court to budget in recent years. The Rawhide Rd. facility, which is now more than 20 years old, has become inadequate for the needs of the county and contains numerous design flaws and issues, including its leaky roof, an outdated shower pipe system, and a shifting foundation.

JP Steve Lee on Monday, whose term ends on Dec. 31, pleaded with remaining JPs to come up with a future remedy to address all of the jail’s problems.

“You really need to consider a tax or get approval from the taxpayers to do something about the jail,” he said. “I can’t stress that enough. We’ve just gotten by the seat of our britches for so long, and there’s going to come a day when aren’t going to get by – and it’s coming soon.”


The 2021 county millage rate was passed Monday by the Quorum Court. The county’s millage rate will not be raised next year and will remain at 9 mills for real and personal property tax purposes.

The county government millage breakdown is as follows:

  • County General: 5 mills
  • County Road: 3 mills
  • County Library: 1 mill

Other local millage amounts are:


  • Magnolia: 3.25 mills (increased by .25 mills from 2020)
  • McNeil: 4 mills
  • Waldo: 5 mills
  • Emerson: 5 mills
  • Taylor: 6 mills

School Districts

  • Magnolia School District: 33 mills
  • Emerson-Taylor-Bradley: 37.4
  • Lafayette County: 32.8 mills
  • Union County (Smackover-Norphlet): 41 mills

The full breakdown of the 2021 Columbia County budget can be seen below.

  • General Fund: $4,169,868
  • Road Fund: $3,354,464
  • Solid Waste Fund: $3,653,351
  • Jail Fund: $1,549,298
  • Columbia County Library Fund: $458,280
  • Emergency 911 Fund: $431,527
  • Additional Motor Fuel Tax Fund: $246,150
  • Collector’s Automation Fund: $92,000
  • County Recorder Cost Fund: $79,100
  • Treasurer’s Automation Fund: $58,920
  • Circuit Court Automation Fund: $9,180
  • District Court Automation Fund: $8,100
  • Assessor’s Amendment 79 Fund: $25,407
  • County Clerk’s Cost Fund: $20,000
  • Rural Community Aid Fund: $20,000
  • Circuit Clerk Child Support Fund: $3,870
  • Drug Control Fund: $10,000
  • Emergency Vehicle Fund: $9,945
  • Victim of Crime Fund: $22,050
  • Indigent Criminal Defense Fund: $9,790
  • Adult Drug Court Fund: $14,101
  • Circuit Court Juvenile Division Fund: $5,000
  • Circuit Clerk Commissioner Fee Fund: $5,850
  • Assessor’s Late Assessment Fee Fund: $3,465
  • Investigator – Public Defender Fund: $8,711
  • Rural Community Aid Fund: $5,000
  • Automated Record Systems Grant: $2,986
  • County Special Projects Fund: $886,700 (no projected expenditures)
  • Boating Safety Fund: (no projected expenditures)

(NOTE: All figures, unless noted, equate to amounts available for appropriation as budgeted expenditures)

In other Quorum Court News: 

- A new fund titled the Coronavirus Relief Fund was established for any incoming CARES Act funds that may be issued to Columbia County. County Judge Denny Foster in October said he was seeking nearly to $676,000 in hazard pay grant monies for safety personnel during the coronavirus pandemic.

- JPs approved a transfer of $3,139.25 within the county’s Jail Fund for the purchase of a new freezer at the Columbia County Detention Center.

- A transfer of $5,010 within the County Clerk’s budget was passed to cover overtime expenses in the office during the 2020 election cycle. The extra funds were needed, according to County Clerk Tammy Wiltz, due to the increased number of absentee ballots that were cast and counted this year.

- A transfer of $5,000 from the Rural Community Aid Sales Tax Fund to the Grants-in-Aid Fund was approved by the quorum court.

- Chris Gilliam, who currently sits on the Columbia County Rural Development Authority Board, was reappointed in his same capacity for a new term. The approval vote among the JPs was unanimous.


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