School board OKs tax hike

Published 11:14 am Friday, June 27, 2014

The Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees approved a 4 percent increase in the school district’s millage rate. 

The five-member board approved on Thursday a $77.5 million fiscal 2015 budget that includes $82.4 million in expenses and a $4.78 million deficit.

The budget was approved 2-1, with District 4 Trustee Joe Loviza and District 5 Trustee Sally Bullard voting aye and District 3 Trustee Jim Stirgus Jr. voting against the budget, citing the tax increase as his reason for doing so.

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District 2 Trustee Alonzo Stevens and District 1 Trustee Bryan Pratt — who is also the board president and participated in the meeting via Skype — recused themselves from the vote due to having immediate family members employed by the school district.

“The school itself is not upping your cost, inflation causes an increase in cost,” Loviza said. “We have fewer administrators in the district than we have had in the past. We’re doing just as much work with fewer people. The school district is not wasting your money.”

Stirgus, who has previously stated his opposition to tax increases, highlighted a state law that allows districts to request a 4 percent increase in funding each year without asking for a referendum.

“It is a tax increase. We don’t have come to you, John Public, until we’re up to 55 mills,” he said. “It’s still a tax increase. In this budget, we ‘re increasing your taxes, be it $1 or $20.”

Bullard said the board would be “remiss” to not increase funds to cover the district’s current deficit and provide better resources for its students

“My concern is that, as board members we swore an oath to protect and do the best with…all the children in the district,” she said. “We borrowed from Peter to pay Paul. We’re going to into the school year with buildings in disrepair, classes without textbooks… We are remiss in not asking for that 4 percent increase.”

Dale McClung, the school district’s financial director, previously said the 4 percent hike would increase the school district millage to 49.81 mills and, depending on Warren County’s assessed value, generate about $1.6 million additional revenue as compared to the 2013-14 figures.

The $1.6 million, combined with nearly $3.7 million borrowed from the district’s $11 million 16th section land interest fund, would cover the projected deficit.

School districts can legally request up to a 4 percent increase each year up to 55 mills without calling for a referendum.

Last year, the district’s millage rate increased 0.4 mills in response to a decline in assessed property values. The rate increase was necessary for the district to maintain level funding from FY 2013 to FY 2014.

Information about the proposed budget provided by the district showed that local revenue, the majority of which is derived from property tax, is predicted to provide about $28.3 million — about 36 percent of the district’s funds. State funds, dispersed through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, are expected to total about $35.8 million, or 46.17 percent of the district’s revenue.

If the figures remain accurate, projected MAEP funds would be $216,990 less than what the district received during the previous school year.

The MAEP funds each district receives are tabulated based upon the school district’s average attendance.

The tax increase comes on the heels of a June 10 special meeting in which Warren Greenlee, an attorney with the Young Law Group, recommended the trustees consider increasing its millage rate and using more of the local funds available to the district.

The district had not been levying 0.34 mills that they could have without a hearing as part of previous general obligation bonds issued.