Letter to the editor: Extra taxes not necessary to balance Sumter school district budget

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On behalf of the majority of Sumter County Council members, I have been asked to respond to a June 12, 2019, article in The Sumter Item.

We recognize and appreciate the value of public education in Sumter County. Producing quality students and an able and well-trained workforce is a catalyst for economic development.

This was evident when county council showed unanimous support for a 9-mill increase in Fiscal Year 2017 for an across-the-board 5% salary increase for teachers.

As reported on June 12, 2019, Sumter School District and the school board are seeking a $1.2 million tax increase.

While county government’s budget is separate from the district’s budget, council has the responsibility to approve or disapprove a tax increase from the district regarding millage for operating expenses. Being fiscally responsible is part of our duty as elected officials.

We congratulate the school board in rebuilding the fund balance, which went from $106,449 at the end of fiscal 2016 to a projected estimate of $10.2 million for the end of this year.

This was accomplished in response to the S.C. Department of Education’s Fiscal Emergency Declaration. A key factor was the 10-mill deficit reduction levy which reallocated 10 mills from debt service to operating expenses. Part of the district’s plan for its upcoming budget is to reinstate 10 mills of debt service, and the district does not need approval from county council to do so.

During a June 4, 2019, budget workshop with council and the district, the county’s finance director explained that the most recent millage data showed a 2% increase in assessed value, equating to an extra $840,000 for the school district.

Council’s position is the original $1.2 million tax increase request — minus the newest assessment — is in reality a request for a tax increase of $360,000. The latest information from the state shows the district will get an additional $300,000 above the amount the district provided at the June 4, 2019, presentation to county council.

We now know, as reported in The Sumter Item following a June 10, 2019, meeting, the school board is requesting $2 million — the growth in assessed value plus a $1.2 million tax increase.

So the net effect is this: The district is proposing a 9-mill operating increase which will hit all businesses and industry and a 10-mill debt service increase that will land on all owner-occupied homes. Translated into dollars, this means 10 mills levied on a home valued at $100,000 would be an extra $40 for the homeowner. For a commercial property valued at $100,000, the business would pay an extra $54. For a business valued at $1 million, it would be an extra $5,400.

While we can respect and appreciate the district and the school board’s request, we think what they are currently proposing is not necessary to balance their own budget.

JAMES T. McCAIN JR.

Chairman, Sumter County Council