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District says need for millage necessary, beyond their control

Officials with the Vicksburg Warren School District said the school millage increase proposed by the Warren County Board of Supervisors is the result of a situation beyond the district’s control.

Part of the situation involves the devaluation of the Baxter Wilson power plant by the state Department of Revenue, which reduced the plant’s assessed value because it is no longer running at full capacity.

Warren County Tax Assessor Ben Luckett learned Baxter Wilson had been devalued Aug. 8 after the school district’s fiscal year began. The school district’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

School district finance director Shaquita Burke estimates the devaluation cost the district $2.6 million in revenue, adding $1.3 million of that will affect the district this fiscal year and require an additional $1.3 million cut in programs across the board.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors propose to raise the school district millage to 68.62 mills, up from 57.7 mills for fiscal year 2019. Of that total, 55 mills — a 1.56-mill increase over the 2019 rate of 53.44 mills — is dedicated to fund school district operations.

The remaining millage will help pay the current note on the bond issue for the draw of money from the $83 million general obligation bonds county voters approved in March for facilities upgrades. The 55 mills is the highest school district millage that can be levied under state law for operations.

Under state law, the school district does not set its millage rate. The Board of Trustees determines the funds it will need to operate the school district and tells the Board of Supervisors, which is charged with setting the millage to raise the money. This fiscal year, the school district’s request was $32.029 million for operations.

Burke said the board’s practice is to estimate the cost of operations on the district’s millage rate.

“When I calculate the needs for the district, I take into consideration what our request’s impact will be on the millage based on a projected calculation I receive from County Administrator John Smith,” Burke said, adding she works with Smith on the projections.

If the board’s request is going to increase the millage, she said, she finds ways to make cuts to keep the request in line with the projected millage.

Burke said the county first put the district’s assessed value for taxes at $599 million. A second set put the value at about $100 million less to $409 million, and then at $589 million.

“That’s the number the board used to set budget for the millage,” Burke said.

She said the budget was already approved and the school district’s fiscal year had begun by the time the district’s funding request was sent to the supervisors to determine the millage.

She said she needed to have the district’s budget approved so it could be sent to the Mississippi Department of Education for approval before Aug. 15.

Because of the Baxter Wilson devaluation, Burke said, the county told her it could not get the $32 million requested by the district.

By that time, Burke said, the budget had been approved and sent to the state.

“I would have had to recall the board, and there was no way I could have had the budget ready to send to MDE by the Aug. 15 deadline. I put it in the hands of the county to get $32 million,” she said. “This was a situation beyond our control; we make every effort to stay in line with our request and keep a reasonable impact on the millage.”

 

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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