YORK — The York school board has approved the largest allowable property-tax increase for school operations – the last piece in a 2013-14 budget saga that started earlier this year with $1.9 million in spending cuts.
“There is no choice anymore,” school board Chairwoman Shirley Harris said after the board’s unanimous vote to approve a 5-mill increase in the property tax rate for school operations, the largest allowed this year under state law.
The board, which had no discussion during the vote, did not change the tax rate for debt repayment.
“We have got to have revenue from somewhere, and we’re not getting it from the state,” Harris said of the operations tax increase.
The tax rate for school operations falls on businesses and the owners of second homes. The amount of the tax increase for business owners varies, depending on the type of business and its tax assessment.
Under South Carolina’s 2007 property tax reform measure, homeowners do not pay any property taxes toward school operations, although they do pay property taxes for debt repayment.
In June, the board approved a $37 million budget for the current school year, which included the budget cuts. The approved budget was based on the operating tax increase, but the board delayed a vote on the tax increase until its August meeting.
Superintendent Vernon Prosser said after the vote that the budget cuts — which included cutting 22 positions and reducing the number of paid work days for some administrators and other staff — would have been more severe without the property-tax increase.
Prosser and budget director Amy Hagner said a 1-mill increase in taxes for school operations generates about $54,000 in revenue for the York district — so the 5-mill increase approved last week amounts to about $270,000 in revenue.
Parents protested the budget cuts at two school board meetings in May and June, but school board members argued that state revenue left them no choice.
School officials said the district used money from a reserve account to balance the budget for the past three years, with the hope that the economy would improve, state revenue would increase and the budget cuts could be avoided. That didn’t happen, however, and Prosser said the school district could not continue to use its reserves
Harris alluded to the budget cuts during opening ceremonies for teachers and other staff on Aug. 14 at York Comprehensive High School, saying “last year was a tough year, and it got even harder toward the end.”
“The board had to make tough decisions that I have never had to make in my 15 years on the board,” Harris said. She said the decisions were carefully made.
“And this year, we are going to be doing an excellent, excellent job of giving our students the knowledge that they need in a safe environment with fewer people,” Harris said.