Berry: Clay's financial picture brightens

Clay County Chancery Court Clerk Amy Berry talks to a Rotarian following Thursday’s meeting
Staff Writer

With Yokohama and Old Waverly, areas to the east and north of West Point make up more than half of Clay County's assessed land values.

And with Yokohama up and running, the county's property values finally have overcome the dark days following the years after Bryan Foods and some other major facilities shut down their West Point operations.

Those and other tidbits highlighted a presentation Thursday on Clay County's finances by Chancery Court Clerk Amy Berry.

District 1, which includes Yokohama and the Barton Ferry area, has 36.81 percent of the county's land value while District 2, which includes Old Waverly, has 19.84 percent, Berry told the West Point Rotary Club. The other three districts stretching from Una and Palo Alto to Siloam to Pheba have the remaining 43.35 percent.

Overall, the county's assessed valuation his $197,365,865 this year, up from a low of $135,483,296 in 2012.

"Things were looking pretty grim after Bryan closed and all its property and equipment went off the books," Berry said. "We've climbed back and well above where we were then. It shows Clay County is experiencing positive growth ."

Personal property values, fueled by equipment at Yokohama, has almost quadrupled in the last three years.

Financially, the property assessments translate into about $6.2 million in tax revenue for the county. With one quarter of the budget year gone, county departments are within their budgets and the county has $2.9 million in cash on hand, she said.

One disturbing trend that started a decade ago and is only getting worse is the state's declining role in funding services that are required by law, especially homestead exemptions which are far below where they should be.

In 2009, state revenues ranging from homestead exemptions to prisoner reimbursements made up 36 percent of county funding while property taxes were 46 percent and other local revenues were 18 percent. In 2016, state funds made up 26 percent while property taxes were 56 percent and other local revenues remained at 18 percent.

"It' something that's been going on awhile and we don't see it ending," Berry said.

Berry also introduced Rotary members to the many useful features available on the county's Web site --

The site contains everything from maps to property tax and ownership records, court dockets, minutes from old supervisors' meetings, election results, searchable address conversion tables, information on obtaining passports and many other services.

Her office also is working on posting deeds online and now can accept payments of fees and other charges via credit or debit cards. The next innovation likely will be electronic document filing for lawyers and businesses.

And finally she said supervisors are "close to finalizing" plans for the proposed Justice Center.

"It's going to be a really good thing for our community," Berry said of the project.

The county has purchased the old Jitney Jungle/Pass It On building on Main Street from Community Counseling for $495,000 and plans to renovate the 25,000-square-foot building and 2.3 acres into a complex housing Circuit and Justice courts and related offices, including three courtrooms.

Supervisors could finalize plans and a lease purchase agreement with the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District's tax-exempt construction arm by the end of next month. Benchmark Construction could begin work by April. Construction is expected to take 12 to 15 months.

The existing courthouse will be refurbished with the current large courtroom becoming home to Chancery Court. The Tax Assessor and Chancery Clerk and some other offices will remain in the existing Courthouse. Much of that renovation work will be done with inmate labor.