School district proposes $45.3M budget

WINNSBORO – No tax increase is anticipated in next year’s school district budget, though property owners still may wind up paying higher school taxes.

At last week’s school board meeting, Chief Financial Officer Kevin Robinson said the proposed $45.3 million budget includes about $4 million in additional revenue, with $2.9 million attributed to increased tax collections.

Robinson attributed the revenue increase to increases in property values.

“The bulk of it is really due to increases in the property tax value, particularly with business property tax values,” Robinson said.

The Board of Trustees voted 6-1 to approve first reading of the budget, with Paula Hartman casting the lone opposing vote. Two more readings are required before the budget takes effect.

Hartman said she preferred using the windfall to lower debt service millage.

“We made reference that, if down the road we had extra money, we would reduce the millage,” she said. “That’s what I suggest the board think about doing.”

As proposed, the budget contains several moving parts, though most address teacher and employee salaries.

The draft spending plan calls for appropriating $2.8 million for retention bonuses and associated fringe benefits. One million of that amount will come from the fund balance as a transfer to the general fund, with the rest coming from increased tax collections, Robinson said.

In January, Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green announced a plan to offer every certified employee a $5,000 bonus to attract and retain teachers. Non-certified employees would receive $3,000.

At $49,288, Fairfield County’s average annual teacher salary ranks 37th out of 82 districts in South Carolina, according to state report card data.

Fairfield’s budget also reflects state mandated teacher raises recently approved by the S.C. General Assembly, which approved increasing teacher pay by 4%.

However, the state is only funding a portion of the 4% (about $700,000) with Fairfield funding the rest, according to budget estimates.

Board trustee Henry Miller expressed frustration over what he called an unfunded mandate.

“They do it all the time,” Miller said. “In Washington, D.C., they just send it down and call it an unfunded mandate. That’s what the state just did to us.”

The budget also shows an increase of $38,141 in student transfer payments to the Chester County School District, traditionally a major rub of the Fairfield school board.

In 2012, a judge ruled that the Fairfield school district must subsidize students transferring into Chester County. The ruling impacts mainly students living in the Mitford area.

Ironically, the Chester transfer payment is rising because the district there anticipates increasing revenues, Robinson said.

“Let’s say, hypothetically, a giant tire manufacturer appears in Chester and has a huge economic impact, and it increases their tax rolls,” board chairman William Frick said. “Because they’re now receiving more taxes, we’ve got to pay them more money?”

Robinson said that’s correct because while Chester County receives state per pupil funds for Mitford students, it doesn’t receive local support.

“We’re paying the portion of local taxes that would be attributable to [transfer] students if they were in Chester, which means we’re basing the payment on Chester’s local tax revenue,” he said. “If their local tax revenue goes up, that means the amount we’re paying per student will go up.”

“So if their economy does better and they get more taxes, we have to pay Chester more money?” Frick asked, drawing chuckles from the board.

“Unless we have a dramatic decrease in the number of students,” who transfer to Chester, Robinson replied.