Trustee Brian Murphy speaks about the dangers of raising taxes as Trustee Dr. Scott Farrataroli listens. (Photo by Greg Rickabaugh)

Should Fort Mill school trustees raise taxes as high as legally possible to fund more of the administration’s priorities?

Or will higher taxes create an environment that makes it unwelcome for businesses in Fort Mill?

That was the debate on Tuesday night, just two weeks before local residents are invited to speak in a public hearing on the proposed $149 million budget for the next school year. (Residents can speak at 6 p.m. May 21 at the board offices, 2233 Deerfield Drive, Fort Mill, S.C.)

Fort Mill Superintendent Chuck Epps and the school administrators have proposed a tax hike for the operational millage of 13 mills in school taxes, an increase that would likely be offset for taxpayers by a reduction in the debt millage. But the extra mills would still raise the new operational tax rate to over 200 mills.

On Tuesday, board member Dr. Scott Frattaroli said he didn’t see any reason the school board should not raise taxes even higher to 14 mills, the highest allowable by state law. He said he is baffled why the trustees would leave money on the table that could be utilized for children and district priorities.

“I don’t see anything in our charge, which is ‘Children First… Every Day,’ that would deter us from not making that decision to raise it the full millage,” he said.

Trustee Brian Murphy disagreed.

“We have got to pay attention to the environment that we are creating in Fort Mill,” Murphy said. “That is my concern. Yes, we can reach and get some more. And maybe is that the right thing and maybe it’s not. However, it’s Children First Every Day, but if we are going to create a tax environment that makes it unwelcome to be in Fort Mill, then long-term that is a detriment to all of us here.”

Trustee Tom Audette also said he is concerned about struggling small businesses. “I think we need to be conscious of the tax that we are putting on our businesses because we do need to attract businesses in here,” Audette said.

An operational millage of 14 would equal an increase of over $83 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.

As we told you last month, 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.

The public speaks May 21. Trustees are expected to vote on the millage tax rate at a subsequent meeting.

Earlier Story: Will School Trustees Raise Operational Taxes as High as Legally Possible?