Property taxes going up in Marion County

COLUMBIA, MS - The Marion County School Board on Monday night voted to increase property tax collections by 4 percent for fiscal year 2010-2011.

The School Board's decision will likely result in an increase in the millage rate, according to Marion County Board of Supervisors President Calvin Newsom. The Board of Supervisors sets the county's millage rate and is required by law to levy the taxes requested by the School District, said Newsom.

When the School District asks for additional property taxes it comes "off the taxpayers' backs," Newsom said. He wishes the School District was not seeking additional property tax revenue, saying these are difficult economic times.  This is not a good time to be asking taxpayers to pay an increased millage rate, Newsom added.

Newsom noted that the only reason the Board of Supervisors raised the millage rate last year was because of the School District. Other county offices have been cutting back and not giving employee raises because of the poor economy, he said.

The School Board voted 3-1 for the 4 percent increase in property tax collections, with Keith Stuckey voting against. Stuckey said he feels the citizens of Marion County are taxed enough and that funding should come from the state not local taxpayers. It's not fair to raise taxes on Marion County residents, said Stuckey.

"There's a lot of people tired of paying taxes, and I'm one of them," Stuckey said, adding that rather than raise taxes, the School District could "tighten its belt up."

School Board member Samantha Armstrong voted in favor of increasing the amount of property tax collections, saying "We've got to come up with money for the budget somewhere."

Armstrong noted that the Marion County School District has already drastically cut the 2010-2011 budget by about $2 million. She added that she is a taxpayer herself and does not like paying higher taxes either.

School Board President Bernard Nelson voted in favor of increasing property tax collections, saying there is no better way to spend taxpayer money "than on our children." School Board member Wayne Regan also voted in favor of the measure, and board member Jackie Broom was absent.

The additional 4 percent in property taxes equals about $136,000. If the School Board had not voted to increase property tax collections, that money would have had to come from somewhere else, possibly more employee layoffs, said Superintendent Ronald Fortenberry.

With the 4 percent increase, the Marion County School Board will collect approximately $3,591,223 in property taxes. The School District's new fiscal year begins July 1. The Board of Supervisors, which is on a different fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 probably won't set the millage rate until September, said Newsom. It is unclear how much the millage may have to be raised to meet the School District's request.

Marion County School District Business Manager Donna Martin said the state has shifted the much of the burden onto local taxpayers. For instance, the state gave the District a $211,220 ad valorem tax reduction grant this fiscal year, and that is expected to only be $40,619 in the upcoming budget year.

In another matter from last night's meting, the School Board voted to borrow $325,166 to cover a shortfall in property tax collections from the current fiscal year. The Board of Supervisors may have to raise the millage rate to pay back that loan over three years. Armstrong said the county needs to do a better job.

Information provided by Marion County Informer,

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