Seven county commissioners have signed a request to reconsider the property tax rates passed by the commission June 12, which resulted in a $438,000 cut to the school system's budget request.
The request was turned in to the county mayor's office Friday and will be considered at the special called year-end budget meeting on June 28.
Commissioner Bobby Fox, who provided a copy of the signed request to the Times-Gazette, said he, like some other commissioners, didn't realize that the tax rate figures being voted on Tuesday night weren't the ones in the packet distributed to commissioners prior to the meeting.
It only takes two commissioners to request that an item be placed on the agenda, so Fox said he stopped after getting seven names on the request. Also signing Fox's request were Phillip "Biff" Farrar, Billy King, Linda Yockey, Don Gallagher, John Brown and Jimmy Patterson.
On June 12, commissioners passed tax rates as proposed by Commissioner J.D. "Bo" Wilson. Wilson's tax rates, which passed without debate or discussion, shifted six cents (per $100 assessed value) from the school system's tax rate to the debt service tax rate, although some commissioners say they didn't realize this and assumed they were voting on the rates as recommended by the Financial Management Committee.
The shift, unless it is overturned, will force the school system to cut $438,000 in spending from the budget proposal which had been on the table going into the commission meeting. School officials had claimed that the budget was already tight and had even considered asking for a tax increase just because the proposed budget has such a small ending fund balance. But if the tax rate remains as passed last week, the school system will have to deal with a cut instead of an increase.
The state has "maintenance of effort" rules requiring that school funding not be decreased from one year to the next. But Wilson said last week the budget as requested by the school system was over this year's maintenance of effort target by so much that moving $438,000 out of it would not have an impact. And he said that if the county does give the school system the $438,000 this year, it will be forced by maintenance of effort to spend the same amount next year.
Wilson said applying the six cents to debt service will help pay down the county's debt and will benefit the school system by allowing it to build a badly-needed new high school at Cascade sooner than it would be able to otherwise. Currently, officials have been saying, the county is at the limit of what it can borrow without new revenue.
The county's debt service fund, which is partly funded by county investment income, has been hurt by low interest rates in the economic downturn.
The school board will hold its regular meeting on Thursday and will consider what to do about its budget request. Since the commission won't have the chance to reconsider its action until a week later, the school board may have to prepare for more than one possible outcome.
The new budget is scheduled to take effect July 1.