‘EDGE OF A FALAIS’: Faced with budget deficits, Mt. Vernon will demand a tax increase by referendum – The Daily Reporter
HANCOCK COUNTY – Voters in the Mt. Vernon School District will determine next year whether they agree to a new tax.
The decision will come as a decade-long funding hike that played a pivotal role in the school society draws to a close. In the opinion of school officials, property tax ceilings that limit the income available to schools are not helping much. The challenges provide a significant portion of the funding for what Mt. Vernon describes as the “edge of a cliff” over the next several years. If the referendum passes, officials say it will help support school operations, keep staff compensation competitive and improve safety.
The Mt. Vernon School Board voted unanimously to add the question to the May 2022 primary election ballot. The question asks registered voters living in the school district if they would support a new property tax of up to 17 cents per $ 100 of assessed value from 2023 through 2030. This boost is expected to bring in more than $ 3.2 million per year.
The Township of Vernon and the Township of Buck Creek in the west and northwest of Hancock County constitute the school district. The average value of a home there is just over $ 200,000. For an owner of such a home, the new tax would result in the payment of just over $ 14 more per month, or nearly $ 170 more annually.
“This is a very light to moderate request,” said Jack Parker, Mt. Vernon superintendent.
If the tax passes, Mt. Vernon predicts that the average property tax paid to the school corporation per year would increase by nearly 16% for residences and 10.5% for businesses.
“It’s the percentage change in the schools share of a person’s tax bill,” said Greg Elkins, chief financial officer of Mt. Vernon. “That doesn’t mean a tax bill will go up 15%.”
The additional tax would affect even those who have reached their property tax cap.
“But the reason we can make this request so moderate is that we are able to distribute it to everyone, including all new businesses,” Parker said. He added that this includes companies whose tax payments are captured by the funding districts for tax increases. Properties with reduced taxes would pay the new tax based on the value of the reduced property.
The current total tax rate for Mt. Vernon is almost $ 1.63 per $ 100 of assessed value. If the referendum passes, Elkins predicts the rate will be closer to perhaps $ 1.70 by 2023, and possibly by 2024 despite the new 17-cent levy. He attributes this to the tax rate that sustains the slightly lower school corporation debt after a waiver ended in 2023, which allowed Mt. Vernon to recoup some of the income from losses caused by the cap. ‘property tax. The total tax rate is expected to fall further, he added, as development continues in the school district and increases the assessed value.
This would keep Mt. Vernon’s rate higher than that of other Hancock County school corporations if they didn’t change much from their current levels. The total tax rates for 2021 are $ 1.01 for Greenfield-Central, $ 1.07 for Southern Hancock and $ 1.12 for Eastern Hancock. By comparison, the fees for schools in neighboring Hamilton Southeastern districts and Carmel Clay schools are nearly $ 1.25 and $ 0.86, respectively.
In 2012, as Mt. Vernon struggled financially, the state allowed the school corporation to restructure its debt over a 10-year period, allowing it to provide about $ 3.3 million per year. It ends in 2023.
On top of that, Mt. Vernon, like many government units, continues to lose tax revenue due to Indiana property tax caps. The school corporation expects to lose $ 3.5 million this year and $ 3.8 million in 2022.
As Mt. Vernon leaders support the New Township of Vernon Fire Protection Territory for the enhanced public safety it provides, its creation results in an annual loss of $ 1.1 million for the school corporation. .
“We have a cliff of operating funds coming to us, and in 2025 if we don’t do anything different, we’ll be underwater,” Parker said.
School officials say the referendum would ensure the sustainability of the company’s operating fund, which supports transportation, utilities, many staff positions, facility maintenance and other expenses. They add that this will also support a more competitive salary scale for teachers and staff, noting that the current base salary for teachers in Mt. Vernon is the lowest of other similar-sized county school districts.
The referendum would also support police officers with additional school resources.
If the ballot question fails, Mt. Vernon would have to wait at least two years before trying again. If rejected, officials fear budget cuts and an increase in class sizes as the student-to-staff ratio rises due to attrition and a hiring freeze.
Executives say the referendum is needed even after more savings the school society has made from switching providers for its clinic and employee prescriptions, energy saving projects and shrinking staff through attrition.
“The easiest thing for us would be to push it back and let future boards handle it, but then they’d be sitting here handling the same thing,” said Kellie Freeman, Mt. Vernon School Board President. .
Shannon Walls, school board member, agreed.
“We don’t want to leave the next leaders of this district in a financial bind and most of all negatively impact our students and staff, so I believe in this tax,” she said.
Parker is encouraging questions and comments on the referendum during its upcoming virtual travel discussions, the next of which will be from noon to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, January 11. To register for this or one of the upcoming discussions, visit mvcsc.k12.in.us.
The referendum comes as the school corporation continues to pursue a future growth plan estimated at more than $ 100 million, which includes a new elementary school among its plans. Mt. Vernon is funding the growth plan efforts with its debt service tax rate, which officials and their financial advisers say can support liabilities without increasing.
This will not be the first time that Mt. Vernon has asked voters directly to increase property taxes. Voters narrowly approved a referendum in 2014 to raise taxes to deal with operating debt. It was the third time in four years that the district has submitted a tax hike to voters, reflecting the difficulty such measures can encounter at the ballot box.