UC school board requests ad valorem tax increase

After careful deliberation Monday evening, the Union County school board voted 4-1 to uphold its earlier request for a four percent ad valorem tax increase for the 2009-2010.

Although the board had made the request for an increase to the Union County Supervisors in June, the decision was based upon preliminary numbers in regard to how much the district would receive from the state of Mississippi.  Since the state’s budget was approved in early July, the school district’s budget had to be amended to show over a $120,000 increase, both in its Mississippi Adequate Education Program money and in its Chickasaw funds.

Because of the increase and the amendment to its 2009-2010 budget, board president Johnny Rakestraw said he felt the board was obligated to reconsider its request.

“I feel like we owe it to the taxpayers to at least talk about it and decide if this is the right thing to do,” Rakestraw said.

One of the arguments for requesting the money is that the school district has applied for and is expected to receive $3 million in Qualified School Construction bonds, as authorized by the federal government under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  These bonds are zero percent interest bonds that the district will have to use within the next three years and pay back over the next 15 years.

“One of the reasons for requesting the increase is to help pay back those bonds,” Rakestraw said.  “We also feel it’s likely that we could see another budget cut of as much as $500,000 during this next fiscal year and that would hurt us in paying these bonds back.”

The school district plans to use the bonds to help with much-needed electrical repairs and additional classroom space at each of the four county schools.

Board member Wayne Mahon felt the board needed to ask for the increase.

“I feel that, if we’re going to even compete with other school districts in the state, we’re going to need those additional monies,” Mahon said.  “It’s an easy decision for me because I go home every day and look at my children.  We’ve got to offer them the best education we can give them.”

Gary Gray, who voted against the amended request, said he struggled over asking for a tax increase in the current economy.

“This is the hardest vote I’ve ever had to make,” Gray said.  “I just feel uncomfortable asking people for more money when so many are losing their jobs.”

The board approved the amended request for $2,841,000 in ad valorem taxes.  The request will go to the Union County board of supervisors, who are required by law to approve the request.

“I feel that we have the supervisors’ support,” Rakestraw said.  “They know how important an education is to our children.”