Fort Mill school trustees are considering raising operational taxes this year as much as legally possible.

  But any increase to pay for a proposed budget of $149 million will likely be offset for taxpayers by a reduction in the debt millage, said Leanne Lordo, the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Finance & Operations.

So it’s good news and bad news for local taxpayers. (Story continues below.)

   The large increase in operational taxes would address critical needs in one of the fastest-growing districts in the state. Trustees are juggling priority needs that include teacher pay increases, a new high school, more bus drivers, special education assistants, a new behavior interventionist, higher substitute pay, and stipends for after-school extracurricular duties.

   If trustees decide to raise taxes as high as possible, they could fund a third-priority level of needs, including extra positions at the new Catawba Ridge High School as well as a list of middle school needs, including athletic insurance, technology guidance assistants and a bonus administrative assistant principal for each school.

   Here’s the problem:

   These higher school taxes are paid mostly by small businesses and anyone who owns a vehicle or boat. And trustees don’t want to run off business owners that are creating local jobs, said trustee Brian Murphy.

  Even so, in an upcoming advertisement, the school district will promote a May 21 public hearing. That is when residents can comment on the possibility of trustees raising school taxes by 13.9 mills, the highest allowed by law.

  An operational millage of 13.9 would equal an increase of $83.40 on a value of $100,000. This millage does not apply to homeowners on their personal residence. It applies to the assets of local businesses and anyone with a a car, a boat or a rental home, Lordo said.

    The millage rate currently stands at 192.2 mills, meaning the new rate would top 200 mills.

   “Our commitment is to what is best for the children of this district,” said board trustee Dr. Scott Frattaroli. “We should not bat an eye at raising taxes if we are doing what’s best for the children of Fort Mill.”

   Lordo emphasized that taxes would be reduced for debt millage rate through a combination of a recent bond refinancing, increase in tax base assessment, and also use of impact fee collections.

  “The Fort Mill School District understands the tax burden that has been placed on our local businesses for school operational costs,” she said. “In an effort to relieve some of this burden caused by an increase in the millage, the district is currently exploring options to reduce the debt millage by an equal or greater amount of the increase in operational millage. This would result in a tax neutral for businesses and a tax decrease for homeowners.”

      And while the district hasn’t decided how high to raise operational taxes, trustee Michele Branning said the board should tell the public that the millage increase might be as high as possible.

   “If we advertise it at the higher number and we come in at a lower number, that is positive. By comparison, if we advertise it at the lower number – 10 – and we take it to 12½ or 13, we just went from hero to zero.”

   Board chairwoman Kristy Spears said everyone hates raising taxes.

   “But we are here to do what is best for our students,” Spears said. “And if that is what we have to do, that is what we have to do.”

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