Small crowd protests tax hike plans

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; A tiny crowd that grew to just more than a dozen people told the Natchez-Adams School Board Thursday that a 26 percent tax increase is too high.

The increase, to be applied to ad valorem taxes in the form of property, car tags, utilities, business fixtures and rental property, would total $9,212,455 to be added to the school’s budget.

The school board, Superintendent Anthony Morris and Director of Business and Finance Margaret Parson told those who came to the public hearing the increase was necessary due to the loss of tax revenue from closures of several major industries in the county and the un-funded teacher pay raise mandated by the state.

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Those present questioned whether the board had cut operational costs as much as possible.

&uot;There are some places this school district can cut and it is going to have to be done,&uot; citizen Grady Boykin said. &uot;Where do you think the money is coming from with no industry here? All you are doing is gouging the public and the kids aren’t getting the education that they should.&uot;

The audience proposed cutting back the transportation and travel budgets and questioned the amount of personnel employed by the district.

School board Chairman Norris Edney agreed the transportation and travel budgets could undergo closer examination, but stressed the district was not yet willing to cut teachers who are essential to maintaining the appropriate teacher/pupil ratio.

&uot;We welcome your help,&uot; Edney said. &uot;If you are willing to sit down and study the budget and come with ideas that we can do and still perform. We can’t lose a mandate, we have to do what the state says.&uot;

The audience also asked about the profitability of privatizing buses, a decision the board made in 2002.

&uot;That is an item we are reviewing,&uot; Edney said. &uot;At the time we made the contract it was a good deal, but there is nothing that cannot be done better.&uot;

Other cost reducing ideas raised included looking into the possibility of cutting trees for profit on forestry land owned by the district. Board member Johnny Dale said the district typically takes the recommendation of the Forestry Commission, which has recommended letting the trees grow.

&uot;We will be questioning the forestry commission on their reasons,&uot; Dale said. &uot;We want the land managed for maximum income for the long term.&uot;

Supervisor Henry Watts, who was not representing the Board of Supervisors, told the school board he understood their frustration but thought the timber idea was worthy of research. &uot;You have to take care of today before tomorrow,&uot; Watts said. &uot;We have to survive today.&uot;

Another suggestion that the board agreed to look into was eliminating some non-certified positions in the classroom and using parent volunteers to do work in libraries and classrooms.

Others in the audience questioned why the budget numbers had not been available to the public earlier. Edney said the delay in funding notification from the state pushed the entire budgeting process back considerably.

The district learned in May that a promised 8 percent teacher pay raise would have to come from their budget.

&uot;The only thing we can do is solicit your help,&uot; Edney said. &uot;If you can sit there and think we haven’t worked our so-and-sos off and to say we haven’t labored, is just unfair. We have tried. We may not have done it to what you can do, but we tried.&uot;

Another concern raised was the state’s promise of another 8 percent teacher raise for the next fiscal year.

&uot;The prayer will be that the next one will be funded,&uot; Edney said.

Dale explained another high tax increase will not be an option next year since this year’s proposal will be very close to the 55 mill limit set by state law.

The board will vote on a final budget at its meeting next Thursday. Under the current proposal the board will ask the county to raise the millage rate to equal $9,212,455.

The county will determine the number of mills necessary to equal that amount. The exact percentage of a tax increase needed is not yet available and will not be until final tax rolls are completed.