Supervisors won’t boost school funds from casinos|[2/10/06]

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 10, 2006

Supervisors probably won’t dip into money the county receives from casinos to help the Vicksburg Warren School District close shortfalls in funding, supervisors said Thursday.

&#8220The way I look at it, we’d have to raise taxes to recoup any money we take out of gaming,” District 1 Supervisor David McDonald said as the county’s five supervisors discussed a request by Superintendent James Price.

Price, who was not at Thursday’s informal county meeting, has cited rising utility costs and a three-year gap in funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program as reasons for the request for increased funding.

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Vicksburg’s four casinos pay to the state a 3.2 percent revenue tax, which is divided into 10 percent for schools, 25 percent for Warren County and 65 percent for the city. A second revenue tax is a .8 percent share of the state’s 8 percent revenue tax. It is split based on population proportions between Vicksburg and Warren County.

In fiscal year 2004-05, the county took in just over $2,292,442.61 in casino gaming revenue. So far in fiscal year 2005-06, the county has taken in $1,162,418.99.

Price said he talked informally with District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders, a former Vicksburg Warren School District teacher, and asked that he broach the subject of possible increased funding for schools.

Flanders opened the discussion Thursday, and supervisors weighed the benefits of using the gambling funds against funding other county projects and expenses.

The county is looking to pave or resurface more roads in 2006 and will spend at least $225,000 to purchase the city-owned former Southern Printing building to store voting machines and house emergency dispatch operations, leading some at the meeting to advise financial caution.

&#8220A lot of projects would have to slow down,” District 5 Supervisor Richard George said, later adding that education is a &#8220recurring expense” that would lead funding of county projects &#8220reduced back to a bond issue, which means tax increases.”

District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon indicated he would be willing to match any increase in gaming funds the city agrees to, while District 2 Supervisor William Banks only saying education funding issues &#8220had no cure” and the district was likely to ask for more.

Flanders has indicated he would support increasing gaming money for the schools.

When the county adopted its $12.9 million budget for 2005-06, it included a 2.41-mill increase that financed employee raises and new equipment in emergency dispatch. Of that, 1.86 went to the county and .55 went to the school district.

Still, Price, has said a $3 million shortfall in state funding for MAEP coupled with a 188 percent increase in natural gas costs has created a financial crunch.

According to Price, the school district took in approximately $800,000 from its share of gaming funds in 2005.

If the city and county agree to leave the current division of funds intact, Price can ask for a 4 percent hike from last year’s intake. This was done just once, Price said, when Dana Road and Sherman Avenue schools were built in 1999-00.

This morning, Price said he is pleased the county discussed the shortfall, but he can do little but wait for financial help.

&#8220I have no chair at the table,” he said. &#8220It would be best for the community to take money from gaming rather than raise taxes.”

In other business at the meeting, county administrator John Smith told board members that the 91 state-allocated touch-screen voting machines should arrive Tuesday, according to phone calls from the manufacturer, Diebold Election Systems.

The county and city have verbally agreed to store the machines at the former Southern Printing building at First North and Clay streets while the two entities iron out details of a purchase.

Electrical work was said to make up the bulk of renovations to the building in the interim, mainly for the benefit of E-911.

The county may also explore purchasing a system to secure and keep the batteries charged on each of the machines. The county plans to purchase 53 more to cover all the voting precincts, with six spares.