The Jackson County School Board held its regular monthly meeting Tuesday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. with a heavy agenda on tap. Superintendent Larry Moore and board member Tony Pumphrey were not present for the meeting. Board members, Charlotte Gardner, Stacey Goodson, Chris Johnson and chairman Dr. Terry Nichols were in attendance with deputy superintendent Cheryl McDaniel present to conduct the meeting in the absence of Moore.
Director of Finance Kathy Snead presented the proposed budget for the coming year. Nichols called for a motion with Chris Johnson making the motion to advertise the budget for the next year with Stacey Goodson seconding the motion for discussion. Goodson said he appreciated what had been said but with the advertising for the millage rate to go up .25% he couldn’t vote for that, “We went up last year. I know we need funding and I understand what we are trying to do as a district but I also know we have businesses here that are struggling and the majority of people in Jackson County don’t own property and we are placing a burden on property owners. I just feel like we need to live within our means. I know we have some things we need to do but I know we had a millage increase last year and I do not feel comfortable in advertising for a millage increase this year.”
Board member Charlotte Gardner joined Goodson, “I think there are ways to compromise. I am not in favor of a millage increase either.” Gardner went on to say that she could see ways where they could cut $200,000 of the $400,000 the school board needs. She said she had met with Moore and with Kathy (Snead) and she understands everything but she thinks they can work in the budget.
Board member Chris Johnson said, “I am going to surprise all of you, I am for it and I’ll tell you why. I pay taxes in this county and I want the best for our teachers and our students. We are talking a quarter of a mill and our tax rate was considerably higher four, five, six years ago, considerably higher. When I came on this board, I made a commitment that I would not increase taxes unless we have to and that’s where the problem is.” Johnson praised the county for bringing our schools up to the standards they are, especially with the new K-8 school. Johnson went on to say he had not had one complaint about the tax increase from last year.
Gardner said she had received numerous complaints and offered that maybe she has an older base of voters who she is in contact with more often.
Dr. Nichols was in favor of the millage increase for the same reasons as Johnson saying that he was proud of the new K-8 school and what was to come for Jackson County.
They heard from a citizen in the audience who was also opposed to the increase, “I would like to say something. I am one who is constantly trying to encourage young people who are employed to become a homeowner. What they tell me is, ‘Mrs. Clay the property taxes are too high with the insurance that you have to pay.’ And I understand and there are people who often abandon their homes trying to cover property taxes and insurance. They American Dream is gone, just gone.” Clay went on to say she saw something a few years ago that about 57% of the people in Jackson County are homeowners with the board telling her it wasn’t nearly that high at this time. She offered that an increase in sales tax would be a better or more equitable way of spreading the taxing around to everyone.
With a 2-2 vote deadlock, the board completed the remainder of the agenda, recessed and re-adjourned. The board voted 4-0 to advertise with the notice of the millage increase with the full board in session Tuesday to vote yea or nay on the proposal.
Deputy superintendent Cheryl McDaniel said following the meeting, “A lot of the discussion was on the recommendation to go from one mill to one point two five mill which actually would not be a point two five increase.”
Millage rates are used to calculate property tax liability which means, if vote on, citizens of Jackson County would pay more on property taxes. McDaniel said the increase would barely be noticeable, “With our homestead exemption, for the average homeowner we’re talking about, you know, a $12. So, for the majority of homeowners who pay property tax, it would not be a big increase.”
McDaniel says the money would be used to help finish paying the school board’s portion of the new K-8 school in Marianna to free up the start of similar projects in the county, “We could not petition for special facilities funding for a school on the east end of the county, for a K-8 for Grand Ridge and Sneads until we’ve met our required effort for the K-8.”
With plans to consolidate some of the 16 schools in Jackson County, McDaniel says, “These kind of projects cost money and we get some assistance from the state for some of those. It’s worth the investment when it creates savings in the long run.”