NASD requests more tax money

Published 12:11 am Thursday, July 3, 2014

NATCHEZ — The Natchez-Adams School District wants $811,855 more taxes next year to “stop the ship from sinking,” as one school board member put it, but how that increase may affect local taxpayers will not be calculated until Monday.

The district currently receives $11,936,759 from local ad valorem taxes, which is generated by taxes on real estate property, automobile tags and business equipment, among others. For next fiscal year, the district’s proposed budget includes $12,748,614 in ad valorem taxes, an approximately 6.8-percent increase over the current year.

NASD Board of Trustees President Tim Blalock said the increase in taxes can be attributed to a decrease in funding from the state, as well as a variety of renovations needed for the district’s restructuring program that will change the make up of two schools.

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Blalock said he felt the increase was a necessary one for the district because it will help students.

“Everybody complains about taxes being high, and I understand that because I’m paying taxes too, but we’ve got to get things fixed and for us to do that we have to invest in our schools,” Blalock said. “We’re not saying, ‘Let’s raise taxes forever’ but right now, we need to stop this ship from sinking.”

In March, the school board approved a restructuring plan for the district that included establishing three smaller learning communities for students: middle school academies, an early college model and a career academy.

The changes are structured around the idea of smaller classes and more personal teacher instruction.

Those changes also require repairs to school buildings, Blalock said.

The current Freshman Academy, which has been housed on the high school’s campus, will be moved to the Central Alternative School building. The students in the alternative school program will be housed in an annexed portion of Robert Lewis Magnet School.

Blalock said the board realized the restructuring plan would come with some costs when they approved it months ago.

“Anytime you fix or change something, it’s going to cost some money because paint cost money, labor cost money and all those things have to be paid for,” Blalock said. “Hopefully, this is a short-term thing and once the dust settles, we hope to lower the amount we ask for.”

Being underfunded by the state, Blalock said, also isn’t helping the district.

The Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) was created in 1997 to equally distribute funds to the state’s public education system.

The Natchez-Adams School District’s MAEP allocation for the 2014-15 school year was underfunded by approximately $1,812,625, according to the Parent’s Campaign, a non-profit group that lobbies support for public education causes in Mississippi.

NASD Business Manager Margaret Parson said the state regulates how much of an increase in ad valorem tax districts can request.

The state uses a formula that incorporates what the district received last year and what it will receive this year, among other things. Once that number is calculated into a base rate, the district can only request between 4 and 7 percent more in increases.

Parson said she hadn’t made the exact calculations using the state’s formula, but would have those numbers in time for a July 10 public hearing, to begin at 4 p.m.  at Braden Administrative Building on Homochitto Street.

Once the district advertises the increase and hosts a public hearing, a resolution must be approved and sent to the Adams County Board of Supervisors to be converted into a millage.

County Administrator Joe Murray said he wouldn’t be able to calculate how much the increased ad valorem request of the school district means for taxpayers until Monday, when Adams County Tax Assessor Reynolds Atkins presents his preliminary assessments of property to the supervisors.

“Based on what he presents, we could make some estimates but at this point everything is a little premature,” Murray said.

Atkins said Wednesday he was in the process of compiling all the information for the presentation.

The county cannot, by law, deny the request for additional money by the school board. Whether or not increasing the millage rate is required to generate the additional school funds or moved from elsewhere in the county budget is up to the Board of Supervisors. The board sets the county’s tax rate.

Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said he realizes the board has little control on the approval or denial of funds, but also said he would be requesting a justification for the increase in ad valorem taxes.

“If it’s more than we want to know what exactly the additional dollars are for and is there a need for it,” Grennell said. “We’re mandated to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to approve it most times, but we still want to know what they want to use the funds for because some of us might disagree with their decision.”

Grennell said the request of justification of funds is a small way the board can continue to oversee the use of taxpayer funds.

“If it’s going to be to help improve the scores at the school and get rid of these failing scores I think it’s great,” Grennell said. “If we have the opportunity to enhance the ability of students to learn, I’m all for it, but we need to be overseeing what’s going on.”