Even With Tax Increase, District Must Still Make Cuts
The Mercer County Board of Education has approved raising the tax rate for 2020. Last Thursday, the board approved raising the tax rate to 71.8 cents per $100 in assessed value for both real estate and personal property. That’s 2.6 cents more than last year’s rate. Motor vehicle rates would remain the same at 49.1 cents per $100.
The new rate will generate four-percent more income over the previous year. It will increase the tax bill for the owner of a home worth $100,000 by $26, according to figures provided by Amber Minor, the chief financial officer for Mercer County Schools.
At the tax hearing, Minor told the school board that the new tax rate would increase general fund revenue $330,000 compared to last year. It would allow the district to keep section 6 funding at $139.33 per student as well as continue supplying school supplies to students and giving the board the option to lower the school fee. According to figures provided by Minor, if the school district had taken the compensatory rate calculated by the state, it would have reduced the district’s end-of-year balance by approximately $600,000. Even with the tax increase, Minor projects the district will reduc the district’s end-of-year balance by $335,000 compared to last year.
Only one member of the school board voted against the tax increase, Larry Yeager of District 2. While Yeager said residents in his district were upset with the proposed tax increase, Billy Montgomery of District 3 noted the board had received a stack of cards from students at Mercer County Intermediate School thanking them for providing free school supplies this year.
“I think it’s gone over really well with our kids and the teachers,” Montgomery said. He said he has been thanked by parents in person as well.
“Personally I felt like it was a very good thing,” said Montgomery, who said he was retired and lived on a fixed income. Noting those who spoke out against the tax increase, he said, “My taxes are going to go up too.”
Randy Phillips of District 5 said he has two kids in the school system. Phillips said he ran for the school board to make things better not just for his children but for other students as well.
“I wanted to make things good for kids in the district,” he said. Phillips said he’d spoken with 150-200 people about school supplies and no one had spoken against it.
He defended moves made by the board over the last year, including giving staff members a two-percent raise, the first in three years. As a result he said the district was able to fill all positions before the school year began for the first time in a while, he said.
“We have been in a cutting mode since 2010,” said Superintendent Dennis Davis. In that time, Davis said the district had eliminated 15-20 teaching positions, reduced school bus routes from 60 to 40, reduced central office staff from 19 to 13, eliminated a maintenance position and closed a school.
This year administrators were informed they are losing $53,000 in state funding in addition to over $200,000 for textbooks already eliminated in the last state budget.
“How many more cuts can we sustain?” Davis said.
He said proposed legislation would require the district to pay $300,000 to install cameras on school buses. The state only provides 50-percent of funding for transportation. “Constantly we’re receiving mandates from the state that we have to recover,” Davis said.
Most at the meeting spoke against the tax increase. Rita Durr called the public hearing “simply a formality.”
“We feel like your mind is already made up,” Durr said. She said she had spoken with business owners who were afraid to speak out at board meetings.
“You’re not talking to the right people,” Durr said. She said buildings around Mercer County are sitting empty because taxes are too high.
“You’ve raised our taxes six out of the last seven years,” she said A former teacher, she said she’d be destitute without her teacher’s pension. “Just because we own land doesn’t mean we are rich.”
Durr also criticized the district’s decision to provide free school supplies to students. “Family Resource Centers can take care of them,” said Durr.
She asked why the district kept Alvis Johnson Field instead of building a football field next to the high school Administrators said it would cost $3 million to build a sports complex at the high school.
Connie Bevins said she had no children in the school system and opposed the tax increase.
“Why should my taxes be increased to support children I don’t have in the school system?” Bevins asked. “I’m not personally benefitting from it.”
Under state law, the board had three choices. They could have charged the compensating rate of 69.1 per $100 in assessed value for both real estate and personal property, which is calculated to generate the same amount of revenue as last year; the subsection rate of 69.6 cents per $100; and the 71.8 cents per $100 in assessed value, which generates revenue four-percent greater than the year before.
Minor called the decision the least favorite part of her job. She said there has been a huge influx of special needs students as well as gifted students into the district.
“We want to make sure we’re doing the very best for every student,” she said.
Minor lives in Danville, the 12th highest school taxing district in the state. She brings her youngest to attend school in Mercer.
“These kids and our schools are our future,” Minor said. Even with the tax increase, administrators are going to still have to cut over $300,000 from the budget, she said.
“We don’t have another way to make money. We can’t sell items or open up another business,” Minor said.
The next Mercer County Board of Education meeting will be Thursday, Sept. 19, at 5:30 p.m.
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