Schools definite: Taxes will rise

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 22, 2001

Dale McClung, director of financial operations for the Vicksburg-Warren School District, discusses the budget Thursday night. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[06/22/01] About 50 people at the required hearing on the new budget for public schools here were thanked for coming, but told there was nothing they could do to avoid paying higher local taxes, starting in October. “There’s no other way to say it than it’s a tax increase,” Superintendent Donald Oakes told those who attended. “We do fully understand the concerns you have and appreciate your comments.”

The Vicksburg Warren School District plans to raise $716,000 more based on the value of real estate and personal property, including cars, for its budget year that starts July 1.

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To accomplish that, the millage rate will be increased by 4 percent the maximum allowed without putting the issue to a vote.

Cited as the reason the added money is needed is the failure of the state to provide all funds promised this year and expected shortfalls next year.

Trustees OK’d the tax increase June 6, scheduled the hearing and will meet again June 29 to formally forward the spending plan to the Board of Supervisors for funding.

The total is tentatively set at $62,389,767, and the district projects it will receive $54,938,475 in revenue from federal, state and local taxes and 16th Section land. Local taxes will fund more than 36 percent of the proposed budget, up from about 20 percent or less when the district was created in 1986.

Overall, the local budget has grown six-fold in 15 years, much of it attributed to higher salaries and benefits, more courses, new construction, debt service and utility costs, including bus fuel. In the district’s early years, maximum tax increases were sought each year. This year’s planned increase is the first since the casino boom eight years ago and reappraisal four years ago added millions to the school budget annually.

For the fiscal year 2001-02, the district expects a $555,000 deficit in Minimum Foundation Funds, state money used for teacher salaries, health insurance and overall transportation costs and a nearly $68,000 reduction in Education Enhancement Funds, state money used for textbooks and supplies. The new local money is to compensate for that shortfall.

Also, the 9,200-student district will no longer receive part of a privilege tax from the Warren County Board of Supervisors, which would have generated about $100,000. Oakes said the district has voluntarily budgeted a 3 percent reduction nearly $690,000 in case more state cuts are made. The local tax increase, he said, will fund about one-third of next year’s expected deficit.

“This requires the district to look at every dime,” Oakes said.

Tina Holmes, whose child is a ninth-grader at Warren Central High School, said she went to Thursday’s meeting because she is concerned about the local tax increase. “I care, but I can’t say I agree or disagree,” Holmes said.

Asked if she felt informed after the meeting: “Not really. It’s just something I’m going to have to look at,” Holmes said, as she thumbed through the graphs and figures given to everyone at the meeting. “Just looking at this I don’t feel I know exactly where my money is going.”

Irby Summerlin, whose children attend Porters Chapel Academy, one of Vicksburg’s six private schools, stood up and objected to the tax increase. “I understand the predicament,” he said. “But, I am opposed to any tax increase.”