District needs tax hike for debt services
By Othor Cain
If you live anywhere in the Southeastern portion of the United States, then you should be familiar with yearly events held in this part of the country titled “Battle of the Bands.”
The Jackson City Council recently took to the chambers and staged its own version of the popular competition appropriately titled “Battle of the Budgets.”
In a two-day council meeting, that included the blame game, members of the Jackson city council approved the city’s budget and approved a 2.5 mills (tax) increase to meet the school district’s $86 million budget request.
Council members Quentin Whitwell and LaRita Cooper-Stokes voted against the motion for JPS. Cooper-Stokes had argued for JPS to get $88 million, the amount of the district’s most recent request.
The 2.5 mills increase would mean, “For property valued at about $50,000, taxes would increase by about $12.50 a year,” Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. said. “For property valued at about $100,000, the millage increase would equal about $25 more a year.”
Johnson said that is why he wanted to hold separate hearings for both budgets. “School districts can craft a budget, but they don’t have to levy the tax,” he said. “And that’s where the confusion comes in. And that’s quite frankly, why I wanted to make sure that we explained that and that we had a separate hearing of the school district budget so they could explain that as well to the public.”
The amount of money that would be generated by the tax increase according to budget discussions would fall short of the $88 million JPS officials said they needed in an amended request to the city. Johnson and the city’s legal team took the position that the $88 million JPS officials said they needed could not be accommodated because JPS did not follow proper procedures of notifying the public.
The tax hike for JPS was approved in 2006 when voters agreed by an overwhelming majority to a $150 million bond referendum. The money from the bond issue has been used to build new schools and make renovations to others throughout the district.
In other financial news from JPS, the board of trustees by a 5-1-1 vote Tuesday, Sept. 19, approved hiring a financial team and paying them $1 million for debt restructuring services with the hopes of saving between $2 and $4 million. School Board member George Schimmel, who abstained from voting, questioned Dr. Gray about his presentation to the board. “I would like to see how much we are paying this team, how much we are expected to save, how the process is going to work,” he asked. Gray responded, “I don’t have those numbers in front of me.”
School board member Linda Rush voted no to that measure. All other board members voted yes.