The Lowndes County School District board on Friday officially approved a budget request that will now go to the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors for approval. According to the supervisors’ president, though, the current request will likely require a vote by taxpayers.
The district is requesting $29.4 million from the supervisors. Roughly $22.1 million of the request is for LCSD’s operating budget, and $7.3 million will cover a combination of the district’s debt services and a new debt that covers a shortfall in last year’s school budget.
The request represents an approximately 15 percent increase over LCSD’s base request last year.
By law, the district is allowed to request an increase of up to 4 percent from the previous year’s fund request for operations. An increase of more than 4 and up to 7 percent requires a potential reverse referendum, meaning citizens can sign a petition to get the tax hike on the ballot. More than 7 percent requires a direct referendum.
Much of the increase is due to an ongoing dispute between LCSD and the supervisors regarding how the district’s funding is calculated.
Review of dispute
In 2020, LCSD sued the supervisors for not fully funding its tax request by more than $3.4 million in property tax revenue. LCSD claimed roughly $50 million in added assessed value in its tax collection area as “new property.” The “new property” LCSD wants to claim comes from fee-in-lieu agreements that have expired.
Chancery Court Judge Rodney Faver ruled with the school district last August, saying LCSD could acquire the taxes from expiring fee-in-lieu agreements as new property because those properties had never been on the tax rolls. However, supervisors have appealed the ruling, and a decision is not likely before next year.
Because the school district and the supervisors are currently waiting on the lawsuit appeal to be heard by the Mississippi Supreme Court, LCSD has to show it needs the money, and the supervisors are continuously having to deny the request.
School and supes leaders respond
Superintendent Sam Allison said if the supervisors had granted the school district’s request in 2020, then the taxpayers wouldn’t be covering the cost nearly as much.
“We feel confident with what we’ve done,” Allison said. “… Our taxes haven’t gone up because they’ve cut us in I don’t know how many years. If they’d have just given it to us when that $100 million worth of property came on the tax rolls three years ago, it would not have affected the taxpayers hardly any.”
“There’s a dispute based on what new property is, and that’s what we’re waiting on an answer from the (Mississippi) Supreme Court,” board of supervisors president Trip Hairston said. “If they have an increase that’s more than 6.99 percent from the base that we gave them last year, then we will only provide, in my opinion, up to 6.99 percent and won’t be able to give them the full amount that they have requested. All of this goes back to the original calculation.”
Hairston said he is proud of the district and wants them to succeed, but he also has to think of the taxpayers in this situation as the supervisors are the ones who approve a final budget for LCSD.
“I’m very proud of the Lowndes County School District, in the teachers, in the classrooms where they’re teaching children,” Hairston said.
“We have something to be proud of in our school district and (the school board does) a great job, but just because they think they can raise taxes on everybody, doesn’t mean they should. We don’t want to be adversarial to the schools, but at the same time we don’t want to tax the taxpayer more than what’s legally allowed.”
Update on building upgrades
At LCSD’s Friday meeting, Joey Henderson with JBHM Architecture presented plans to the school board regarding the Caledonia High School gymnasium the district is going to build with their three-mill 10-year note.
The gym will feature roughly 1,000 seats, and it will be a brick structure facing the existing school building.
Allison said the new gymnasium is a much needed addition to the Caledonia campus because the current building cannot hold the entire student body for pep rallies and sporting events.
The new gymnasium is going to cost roughly $9.7 million, which is almost $1.7 million over the $8 million the district projected in April. LCSD has 3-mills earmarked in its budget for financing bonds for capital expenditures.
“We were fortunate enough to have some money (from the 3-mill note) to fund a majority of the project,” Allison said. “Construction costs are crazy, but it’s going to be a great facility. … A million dollars (over) is a lot of money, but we’ll be OK.”
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.