In a somewhat back-and-forth dialogue, it seems Sumter County Council wants Sumter School District to lower its millage request again.
In a letter to the editor that appeared Sunday in The Sumter Item, county council Chairman Jim McCain basically …
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Of the 81 school districts in South Carolina, 25 of them - including Sumter - have no fiscal authority and must go before their respective county councils to approve a millage rate request. That's about 31%. A total of 27 districts do currently have fiscal autonomy, or 33%. The remaining 29 districts, about 36%, fall somewhere in between.
Source: South Carolina School Boards Association
In a letter to the editor that appeared Sunday in The Sumter Item, county council Chairman Jim McCain basically said as such, and he reaffirmed that Tuesday in a conversation with The Sumter Item.
At a June 4 budget workshop with district administration and again in Sunday's letter, the majority of council members interpret a millage adjustment back to a previous level from a few years ago - after a "swap" mechanism that allowed all homeowners a tax cut the last two years - to be a millage, or tax, "increase" on those homeowners now.
District administration and Sumter School Board Chairman the Rev. Ralph Canty interpret the debt service adjustment of about 10 mills to be "restoring" the millage level to what it was previously and not an increase.
After the tax break the last two years, McCain said in his Sunday letter the 10-mill debt service increase will translate to an extra $40 in taxes for a homeowner on a home valued at $100,000.
The district can't legally do the swap again, reallocating the mills from debt service - or the capital side of the budget - to operating expenses, which homeowners are exempt from paying on due to Act 388. Examples of capital expenditures that homeowners pay for include facility repairs, such as fixing roofs and heating/air conditioning systems, according to district administration.
Technically, the district doesn't need council's approval to do this change now. But the district does need council's approval for a 9.01 mill increase it's officially requesting on the operational side of its budget that will affect all commercial businesses and vehicle property taxes starting in January.
So, the majority of council members see the district's current request as a tax increase on both homeowners and business/industry.
Meanwhile, the county is also projecting a 2% increase in its tax base next year, which would mean an extra $840,000 going into the district's coffers already if those estimates hold true. Take that off its official mill request, which translates to about $1.2 million, and the district needs considerably less to balance its budget for next year, McCain said.
When revealing these details at the June 4 workshop, several council members told district administration to possibly reconsider lowering its request. At a June 10 board meeting, the trustees still voted unanimously for the 9.01 mill increase.
School district Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Miller also told board members at their meeting last week that the county's growth rates the last two years have been 0.2% and 0.9%.
McCain and county administration said county Finance Manager Jamie Michaelson is the point of contact on all tax-related questions, and he's out of town this week and will be back on Monday.
County council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the district's millage request. It has turned down the district two consecutive years.
If the district doesn't receive the additional local revenue it's requesting, it will have to make additional cuts to balance its budget. In next year's budget, district administration has already made $4.9 million in budget cuts, according to Miller.
McCain said Tuesday that he's hoping council can work with the district.
"I would like to have a compromise, but I don't know if I can work that out or not," he said.
District Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm said she also hopes the entities can work together.
"Sumter County and the Sumter School District have a common interest in providing quality education experiences for students," Hamm said. "The district is working to 'right size' our budget. We have made several million dollars in cuts, but we need help on the revenue side, too. We also have aging facilities that need attention. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that we can find a mutually agreeable way to move forward."
Canty, the school board chairman, also said he seeks collaboration with council. He said as of this time, the board isn't planning to meet again before Tuesday's council meeting and vote on the millage request.
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