Andrew Dys

School board members vote, save taxpayers some money

FORT MILL -- Over less than 50 bucks, Patrick White and Michael Johnson became taxpayers' heroes this week.

With a spark from veteran board member White, and prodding from new member Johnson, the school board in the fastest growing district in the state voted unanimously Monday night not to raise school taxes this year.

The school administration got everything it asked for, all 52 positions, without a tax increase, White said. Because White showed there is enough money from a surplus: Taxes already paid.

Plain and simple, the district has the money to get by this year, White said.

"We didn't cut any expenses at all," he said.

White did his own homework before the vote, finding that while student population is expected to be up about 15 percent for the school year that just finished and next year, the district's budget went up 28 percent, from about $39 million to $50 million.

At first, district administrators wanted to raise taxes about $96 per year for a $200,000 home. The board balked, then the administration countered with a raise of $48 per year.

Again, the board said no. Because the board likely will go to these same voters as early as next spring and ask for millions more in a bond package for one or two elementary schools.

"If we don't, we will have trailer cities at our elementary schools," White said.

In just the past month, 145 new homes were occupied in the district, according to statistics furnished to the board Monday. The average is about 100 new families per month.

"A bond vote is imminent," board Chairwoman Martha Kinard said.

A third middle school will open in August. A second high school will open in 2007.

Fort Mill schools are among the best in the state. The district has a booming enrollment because of its proximity to Charlotte to the north, Rock Hill to the south and high achievement.

But growth could skyrocket even more. The property tax/sales tax swap the governor and Legislature are close to enacting means more people will want to live in Fort Mill and work in Charlotte, White said. They save property taxes but can buy their products in North Carolina and avoid the new sales tax.

Another wild card is that property tax reassessments just went out for York County. Assessment in areas in the Fort Mill district were the hardest hit in York County, as much as 24 percent.

School taxes have gone up in the district every year for at least the past five years, according to figures from the York County Auditor's Office. In Fort Mill, the school board did what it is supposed to do. The board got a recommendation from the district about a tax increase to pay for that growth. Individual board members did research and brought forth reasoned arguments to each other and the public.

White made a motion for a budget with no new taxes. A second came from Johnson, who had problems with a tax increase because of the more than $2 million surplus. Plus, the bond package is looming.

"All I wanted was a vote," Johnson said. "If we have a surplus, we shouldn't raise taxes. A no-brainer."

The vote was unanimous: No tax increase, while not shortchanging students and parents. Fifty-two new teachers.

At a charity golf tournament the day after the vote, Johnson said a dozen people thanked him. Another dozen or more thanked him at Rotary. Another 18 e-mailed White.

"Nobody complained we didn't raise their taxes," White said.

I live in Fort Mill Township. My taxes have not gone up.

Imagine. Politicians said, "Taxpayers, we have enough. You already paid."

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