Schools approve increase in taxes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 16, 2001

[08/16/01] One tax increase for Warren County was formalized Wednesday when trustees of the Vicksburg Warren School District signed a resolution initially approved in June.

It forwards to the Board of Supervisors an $18.2 million revenue request that supervisors, in turn, must collect from owners of real estate and personal property during 2002.

To gather the total, supervisors will have to hike this year’s millage rate on real and personal property by 4 percent the maximum allowed without submitting the issue to voters.

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Whether taxes will rise overall and by how much is yet to be determined.

Supervisors are also gathering information for their own budget and county departments are requesting increases that, unlike school increases, will be subject to the supervisors’ discretion.

City officials are also drafting a budget for the new year that begins Oct. 1. A draft shows higher spending, but Mayor Laurence Leyens indicated the new dollars will be raised by bond issues, not tax increases.

Combined, the tax levies for schools, county and city government provide a key factor in calculating what people will pay for car tags starting Oct. 1 and on businesses, land and homes starting Jan. 1.

The local tax dollars expected by the school panel will help fund the district’s record $62 million budget that it also passed in June.

Overall, county money will make up about 37 percent of district revenue, second only to the $26,597,137 trustees expect to receive from the state. The balance comes from federal sources, grants and cash on hand.

Like other districts throughout Mississippi, the VWSD initially said it would seek funding elsewhere to make up for money state government promised but didn’t deliver. When funds were released in July by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to cover education shortfalls, the local board stuck by its increase.

“The point is, we don’t know where we’re going to be in December,” Superintendent Donald Oakes said last month.

District officials estimate the increase will generate $716,732 from local taxpayers more than would be raised through normal annual growth.

“The money the state was giving us would not allow us to keep doing all the things we were doing,” said trustee Pearline Williams, one of the three board members present at Wednesday’s meeting.

Williams, Chad Barrett and John Carlisle agreed to seek the money from the county. Board President Zelmarine Murphy and member Kay Aasand were absent.

The 9,300-student VWSD has raised its budget six-fold since its founding in 1987. More of the new money has gone to higher pay and health insurance for teachers, two new school buildings, air conditioning of all schools, a more modern bus fleet and rising utility and fuel costs.

After an initial budget of $10 million, the district got near-maximum tax increases annually until casinos in 1993 and property reappraisal in 1997 created major income surges.

The millage rate hike approved in June was the first such measure in eight years. Otherwise, the budget has risen by virtue of there being more local developments to tax and the higher values of real and personal property.

In other business Tuesday, the board approved an amended version of the budget for the 2000-2001 fiscal year, which ended July 1.

Trustees convene again tonight for a regularly scheduled meeting at 5:30 p.m.