Houston trustees ponder tax increase

HOUSTON – City schools might be able to squeak by without a tax increase this year, but it would probably only dump the burden on the next year’s budget.

The Houston School Board has seen a decrease in ad valorem taxes and state funding and is looking at a shortfall to satisfy bonds and shortfall notes obtained in both 2008 and 2009.

Trustees met Monday night and heard a report from Superintendent Dr. Steve Coker and Ronja Lancaster, Houston School District business manager, saying the board can either pull the money from other funds within the system or raise the millage rate on property.

The district took no action and has scheduled a public hearing for July 19 and a August 9 meeting to vote on the issue.

The exact amount taxes could go up has not been decided.

The board must satisfy the Middle School 1991 bond and two, three-year shortfall notes the board obtained in both 2008 and 2009 to balance the budget.

The Middle School bond will be paid off in February and the 2008 shortfall note will be paid off in August, giving the district some relief.

It is estimated the board would need to increase taxes somewhere around 1.8 mills to satisfy these debts. It was also pointed out by not increasing taxes for the general fund, the district’s bond maintenance fund would be approximately $25,000 short again next year.

“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” said Trustee Rayburn Parks. “This isn’t an easy decision.”

Board President Carol Byrne said any tax increase would have to finance the bond and notes and would not be tucked back or used for other programs or projects.

A one mill tax increase would raise approximately $50,000 for the school district.

In other business:

* The board was approached by Zora B. Cousin demanding the Houston Middle School be named after her husband Warren G. Cousin, who served the district for many years.

No motion was given to change the name of the Middle School and no action was taken.

* The board was approached by Brand Huffman seeking an agreement between the district the Chickasaw County Regional Correctional Facility that would allow schools to be used as a temporary holding facility in the event a natural disaster destroyed the new correctional facility.

Brand pointed out inmates would never be around students, the county would provide complete security and the district would only need to provide “a roof and a restroom,” until inmates could be transported to Parchman or other state jails.

The board requested more information and turned the matter over to board attorney James Hood.

* The board was approached by Tony Uhiren, representing the Houston Diamond Club, seeking to build a practice facility for the Houston baseball team.

Uhiren said the facility would be financed and built by the booster club and then be given to the district. He said the Diamond Club had the money to begin dirtwork and pour a foundation.

The board tentatively approved the initial work, pending their review of a contract to transfer the facility to the district.

Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal