Harrisburg school board levied a tax increase of 4.99 percent over last year for an amount of $5,552,468 after some vigorous debate during the public comment portion of Thursday's meeting.
Rod Wallace and Danny Ragan took the opportunity to speak during the public comments period.
Wallace says Harrisburg's population is declining in part because of high taxes and fears an increase in the tax levy will cause a further population decrease. He said surrounding counties have lower property taxes than Harrisburg. He described the new "superhighway" through Harrisburg producing a "giant sucking sound" as people move to Williamson County and other areas.
"The question is, as a board, what are you going to do to shore things up, folks? This is not complaining, it's not something we're addressing, it's addressing us," Wallace said.
A taxing body levies in dollar amounts what it needs to operate, or what is permitted by law. Months later, when the equalized assessed valuation — the total property tax value of the taxing district — is determined, tax rates are produced based upon the levy and the EAV.
Superintendent Dennis Smith in a 2008 public hearing for the 2009 levy compared determining a tax levy to playing five-card stud poker. The player knows the legal maximum tax rates, last year's EAV, what the bond levy must be and that there is no tax limitation law in place. The card not seen is the current EAV, which the district is betting against.
The district must bet high in order to capture as much EAV increase as possible. In 2008 the levy the board approved for 2009 was 7.9 percent higher than the previous year. A tax levy higher than 4.99 percent requires a Truth in Taxation hearing, often described as a complex procedure. Many taxing bodies routinely set their levies at 4.99 percent each year.
Jeffrey Drake explained the board's intention with the tax levy board members informally decided upon during the October meeting. Drake said the members' consensus was a tax of 4.99 percent higher than last year. That should amount to a tax rate of $4.55 for every $100 of the equalized assessed valuation, Drake said. Drake said that rate is less than the $4.62 tax rate levied in 2009.
Wallace said while the rate is less than that in 2009 the difference in EAV still means taxpayers are paying more money to the school than in 2009.
DeNeal explained the situation the school district is facing this year. The district anticipates a deficit of $600,000 in the education fund and more layoffs of staff appear imminent.
"I'm probably going to lay off 10 more teachers," DeNeal said.
He said people will not be wanting to move to Harrisburg if the education system is substandard.
He also said by setting the tax percentage at 4.99 — lower than several surrounding counties in this year of the state cutting back its funding — the district is voluntarily capping the levy.
Page 2 of 3 - "We're capping our taxes voluntarily. That's not status quo," DeNeal said.
He said in about the past five years the district has already cut 20 teachers.
"Our student population has not gone down by 20 percent in the last five years, but the number of teachers is down 20 percent," DeNeal said.
Teacher Beth Montfort said the teaching staff has been cut by 16 in the past two years alone.
DeNeal said the district made cuts amounting to about $500,000 last year and there may be the same amount made for next year.
Wallace said by his figures the reduction in the student population from 1981 has been about 2/3 or 35 percent, yet there are the same number of buildings to maintain.
"I don't know why there is not some consolidation into three buildings instead of four if now there is 2/3 the size of what we were. We should be accommodating the size," Wallace said.
Wallace said he believed all taxing entities should be working together to keep taxes down and getting more employment.
Clayton repeated Wallace's fear that taxing increases will drive away population, thus increasing the tax burden on those remaining.
"Down the road 10 years from now a lot of people aren't going to afford to live in their houses. For those without good jobs, it's going to be tough," Clayton said.
He said if the state tax multiplier goes up — which is something out of local control — the area's equalized assessed valuation goes up and that results in a tax increase.
He said the school has costs that it has to cover, but that the school board members must also take into account the wishes of those who elected them.
"I want to have a good education system, but it's going to physically drive them out of their homes taxes going up the way they are," Clayton said.
Montfort expressed alarm about DeNeal's statement the district may be laying off 10 more of the teaching staff.
"Just stop spending," she said.
She said at every meeting the board hires people to replace those who have resigned, yet the teachers have adjusted to make up for reductions in force for teaching staff. She believes those in other positions should also be able to work around staffing shortfalls.
"I feel as teachers we've done 110 percent. I think if there is a hiring freeze they can make it work," Montfort said.
During the meeting, the board:
Approved Lu Walker as energy broker. Walker will be searching for the companies that can provide the cheapest energy cost to the school. Brian Hester abstained. He said he had been approached by another broker and he believed the position should be bid upon. Smith said the district has worked with Walker in the past, hers is the only company with a brokerage license in Harrisburg and the board had indicated in the past a desire to provide business locally.
Page 3 of 3 - Approved the resignations of Hillary Ford as head basketball cheerleading coach and Jerica Howton at EOC aide.
Approved hiring Nick James as assistant wrestling coach, Caitlyn Dismang as head basketball cheerleading coach and Hillary Ford as assistant basketball cheerleading coach.
Approved the reassignments of Lori Wilson Taber from EOC aide to second grade reading Title aid.
Approved assistant wrestling coaches John Fuller, Whipper Johnson and Jeradon Brown.
Approved employing EOC aides Crystal Partain and Connie Higgs.
Approved boys basketball volunteer coaches Erik Griffin and Robert Hodson.
Approved girls basketball volunteer coaches Jacob Morse and Victoria Beasley.
Approved removing a student from the bus for the rest of the year.
Approved expelling a pupil from Harrisburg Middle School to the LAB school for the rest of the year.
Gave approval to architect Ed Kerkhover to apply for a energy efficiency grant and a maintenance grant.