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County schools seeking more from local taxes

State budget cuts and rising costs have left Lincoln CountySchool District officials scrambling for ways to continue providingadequate education for children.

A public hearing was held Monday on what school officialsperceive as the best way to recover the lost funds: an ad valoremproperty tax increase.

“Until legislators come up with a better solution, the advalorem tax is the only way to do it,” Frank Fortenberry, financialconsultant for the school district, told a crowd of only schoolboard members and administrators.

Mississippi legislators cut $80,000 of promised state money,which funds about 70 percent of operating costs, from the schooldistrict’s budget a few months ago, and school officials believethat may not be the end.

“Next year, they’re proposing additional budget cuts,” saidFortenberry. “They are putting in writing to us that they areserious about cutting the money to operate Lincoln CountySchools.”

Through its ad valorem tax efforts, the school district isseeking approximately $154,000 more from local property taxes nextyear. The Lincoln County School District is not alone in itsstruggle, though.

“If there was ever a time, this is a time when schools areuniform in what they’re doing,” said Fortenberry.

He showed board members examples of how other school districtsin the state were also seeking ad valorem tax increases.

He explained the necessity to plan the 1 percent increase thatwill leave taxpayers owing more taxes on their homes, vehicle tags,utilities, business fixtures and equipment and rental property.

“Maybe we’ll be fortunate. . . but we cannot afford not to beready for the budget cuts and increased energy costs,” saidFortenberry, citing higher gas and electricity bills in recentmonths.

According to state law, school districts are allowed to ask fora 4 percent increase, but Lincoln County school officials do notwant to ask for more than what is needed, said Fortenberry.

The 2001-2002 school year budget, which is just an estimate,shows a projected total budget revenue of $15,139,662 and projectedtotal budget expenditures of $15,085,908, leaving the district withlittle extra operating funds, Fortenberry said.

Of the new year budget revenue, $2.05 million is anticipatedfrom property taxes. Taxing authorities, such as the county boardof supervisors, are required to set the tax levy at a point whereit will bring in the requested funds.

Fortenberry added that even though the request would add 1.99mills to the tax rate, the rate was much less than it was six yearsago. A county-wide property reappraisal could impact the actualmillage rate adjustment, which will be made by supervisors laterthis year.

School board members and administrators seemed to agree that theslight increase was necessary for the school district tosurvive.

As they looked over the proposed budget, the only questionraised was about the plan to keep up school buses in thedistrict.

Superintendent of Education Perry Miller explained that two newschool buses would be bought in the upcoming year and then twobuses the year after.

“We feel like we’ve got a pretty good budget. We feel like we’vegot everything budgeted that we need,” he added.

Board members will consider approval on the budget and advalorem tax increase at the next meeting at 5:30 p.m. July 2 in thecentral office.