County Council approves school district tax hike
by The Press and Standard | August 8, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: August 7, 2019 at 12:52 pm
The members of the Colleton County School Board will get their first look at the final proposed 2019-2020 budget during a special session on Thursday Aug. 8.
The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the board meeting room at the annex building.
With the final proposed budget in the hands of the school board members, the next step towards passage will be the publication of the budget as a legal ad in the newspaper.
And, hopefully, better scheduling.
On July 30, both the school board and Colleton County Council met at the same time. About the time Colleton County School Superintendent Dr. Franklin Foster was providing school board members an update on the status on the budget work, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Operations Cliff Warren and Director Of Finance Emily Temple led a small contingent of school district officials who were listening to the county council debate the school district’s request for an increase in its general operating millage.
Councilmember Steve Murdaugh asked that the resolution be amended. The original resolution, first brought to the table in June and then tabled, sought an increase of 4.41 mills.
It was initially tabled at the request of Dr. Foster, who hoped that further work by the school officials would be able to further reduce costs and shrink the size of the projected shortfall between projected revenue and expenses.
Murdaugh’s amendment would approve an increase of three mills, which would generate approximately $400,000 for the district.
Murdaugh said his decision to sign off on the tax increase was “a decision that did not come lightly.” He said council met with school officials several times about the request, and he had heard from residents both for and against the proposed tax increase.
Murdaugh said the fact that the state legislature authorized teacher salary increases without providing the funds to cover all the increased cost was the primary reason behind his support of the resolution. The teacher salary increases “were kind of thrown on the district, maybe unfairly, by the legislature at the last minute. They did not have adequate time to prepare and need help with funding.”
He said that the state legislature could be burdening the school district with additional costs in the future. “The district needs to find within themselves a way to cut their spending, particularly to give their classified employees a pay raise as well. They need to go ahead and start preparing for that. We are willing to help them, but they need to start helping themselves.”
Councilman Art Williams said, “My position is if we don’t fund our children’s education, then who will? We must fund our children’s education.”
He said that officials “are always putting everything ahead of our children and then we wonder why our test scores are where they are at.”
Williams agreed with Murdaugh that the school district has to do a better job of managing their finances. “Once you start funding it properly, then you can hold people accountable. But when you don’t fund it properly, you allow loopholes and excuses.”
Williams added, “Educators needed to be funded. If we don’t fund them, I guarantee that Beaufort, Dorchester, Berkeley and Charleston counties just love a well trained teacher. Other districts are waiting for trained teachers.”
Councilman Phillip Taylor Sr. joined Murdaugh and Williams in voting for the resolution approving the tax increase.
The no votes came from Joseph Flowers and Gene Whetsell.
Flowers said, “None of us like to raise taxes because once you raise a tax, it is permanent. I’ve never seen taxes go down.”
Flowers pointed out, “We have less students in our county than we have had for a long time.” The county’s demographics, he added, suggest that the decrease in students would continue.
“They need more money, but they have less students,” he said.
Flowers also pointed out that the county council approved millage increases for the school district the last fiscal year (3 mills) and in 2016 (6.11 mills).
Although the district has been facing difficulties in providing funds for general operation, Flowers said, “The school board elected to spent $7 million to renovate Forest Circle School — that’s a lot of money.”
Flowers suggested “increased taxes make our county less attractive to industry. Small businesses bear the brunt of this tax increase.”
The county government, like the school district, Flowers said, finds its finances adversely affected by the state’s unfunded mandates. “We have to hold the legislators accountable.”