Petition cannot stop approval of school district’s tax increase

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 1, 2010

NATCHEZ — A petition cannot stop the Natchez-Adams School Board from approving a tax increase.

Although on the surface, the total tax revenue requested appears to meet the minimum required by law to allow such a petition, the law also allows for adjustments to be considered.

When adjustments are factored, the school district’s proposed tax increase is not high enough, by law, to allow a petition to stop it.

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Click here for 2011 Natchez-Adams School District calculations for ad valorem taxes

Click here for the definition of ad valorem taxes as prescribed by the Mississippi Code

The district contends, under the terms of the law, it is asking for a 1.7-percent increase in revenue from ad valorem property taxes, not the 4 to 7 percent increase reported in The Democrat Wednesday.

The advertisement the district has been publishing says the proposed tax increase would bring in $11,421,570, up from $10,753,485 this year, or a 6.2 percent total increase.

But the law governing the district’s tax requests allows for several exemptions before calculating an official percent increase.

Mississippi Code Section 37-57-104, Section 3 states that changes in the local contribution due the Mississippi Adequate Education Program — which equals $216,325 for the local schools — do not factor into the percent increase.

Natchez-Adams District Business Manager Margaret Parson and a representative from the Mississippi Department of Education acknowledged that the budgeting process could be confusing and difficult to understand.

The wording of the advertisement is determined by state law as well, and could not be changed by the local district.

According to the state department, the percentage increase as defined by law is also impacted by the amount of money awarded to the district from state ad valorem tax reduction fund grants.

The exact amount of the ad valorem tax reduction funds to be awarded by the state is unknown. That number will be either $64,918 or $372,050, Parson said.

The district calculated its tax increase based on the lower number.

If the higher amount of money is awarded, the difference will affect next year’s millage request.

“This year we have two funding bills,” said Melissa Barnes, director of school financial services at the Mississippi Department of Education. “The districts have had to make a decision about which amount they are going to use. If a district decided to use the lower amount, then that has an affect on their local tax request.”

The department of education recommended all districts use the lower amount in their calculations.

Parson said the school board has worked to keep their tax increase request as low as possible.

“The board always works to reduce costs, and the board is always conscientious of the taxpayer because we are all taxpayers,” Parson said. “We have always been short from what we legally could have asked for.”

The tax revenue collected this fiscal year, as listed in the advertisement, is $10,753,485, but it is only an estimate. Exact numbers are not available because July, August and September revenues have not been received.

The Democrat regrets any confusion Wednesday’s news story may have caused and is happy to, perhaps, set the record straight in what appears to be a confusing and complicated budget situation.