Tax hike coming in Marlboro Co.; Some school board members say they didn't approve it

Property taxes will be slightly higher in Marlboro County next year mainly due to a 13 mill rate increase by the Marlboro County School District.

The increase amounts to a $26 increase on a $50,000 home and a $52 on a $100,000 home, according to the county auditor's office.

Here's the problem, some school board members say they didn't approve any millage increases.

"We didn't raise taxes. We were adamant about not raising taxes, " said Lucy Mills Parsons, School Board Chairman. "We sent the chief financial officer back to the drawing board and said we will not raise taxes or millage, and then he came back with a budget that he said had no tax increase."

She says the board was told it would be a 13 mill swap between the operating millage and debt service which would not result in a tax increase.

Parson says the district's finance officer raised the millage, and she had no idea it was done until a resident complained about his tax bill.

She says she called the Marlboro County Tax Assessors Office to find out what happened.

"I called the Tax Assessors office, and he said something about 13 mills, and I said you know that was the swap that we did. He said no. I didn't realize it was an additional 13 mills until I went looking for it."

Another board member told NewsChannel 15 that the board is given a summary of the budget to look over before voting, because the actual budget itself is quite lengthy, and on that summary it was not clear that there would be a tax increase.

NewsChannel got a copy of a letter sent to the Marlboro County Auditor by the district's finance officer in September.

It confirms the millage increase adopted by the school board for the 2012-2013 budget year.

In an email to NewsChannel 15, the school district's attorney, David Duff, says the administration never understood the board to say that there should be no increase in the total millage rate.

Duff says the millage had to be raised to avoid slashing the operating budget which could have forced cuts into the district's educational programs.

The email is below:

"I am responding based on what I now understand to be the case. The District administration understood that, for FY 2012-13, the Board directed that the general fund budget for operations not result in a tax increase. Therefore, the administration revised its first budget proposal for opertions to reduce the amount of needed local funding so as to avoid imposing a 9-mill increase in the operating levy. The initial budget proposal would have resulted in a 9-mill increase in the operating levy, but the administration cut from the budget (operations) 9 mills worth of funding. This obviously had an impact on operations, as compared to what the administration initially desired in terms of the District's educational offerings. The debt service levy for 2012-13 was automatically going to increase by 13 mills in order for scheduled principle and interest payments on the debt to be made. (My understanding is that the necessary 13-mill increase in 2012-13 on the debt side followed a reduction in debt service millage in a prior year because the debt service account had more than sufficient monies in it to pay the debt payments due; thus the millage rate for a year or so could be reduced, resulting in tax avoidance to the taxpayers. Once the excess in the debt service account was used up, the millage rate by necessity would have to increase to the earlier millage level.) My understanding is that the administration never understood the Board to say that there should be no increase in the TOTAL millage rate, that is, operating millage AND debt service millage - that would have required not only eliminating the initial proposed 9-mill increase but also cutting the budget (operations) so that an additional 13 mills worth of funding would not be needed," explained David Duff, School District Attorney.

Parsons has filed an incident report asking Bennettsville police to investigate what happened.

She's also requested the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate.

Board member Michael Coachman says the millage increase will be on the agenda at the December meeting.

"At next board meeting for us to address the issue of tax millage and come up with a solution to fix the problem, whether to make an adjustment to resolve the issue," said Coachman.

Parsons says she's hoping the district and board can right this wrong.