Give and take taxes

     Mike Bucket, The Hartwell Sun, April 6, 2017

​The underlying problem here in Hart County…two independent agencies, the County Commission and the School System, depend on revenue from a common source the property owners. Each of these agencies is authorized to independently set their own millage rate and levy taxes. These agencies are not required to coordinate their budgets and as a result, there is no ceiling on taxation. There is no incentive for these agencies to (1) voluntarily limit taxation, or (2) to annually negotiate with each other to agree on an equitable distribution of available tax revenues. With the limitations of this taxation method in mind, let’s see how these local government agencies performed in 2016.

The County receives only 26 percent of the total property tax revenue while the school receives the balance. For every $1 allocated to the County the schools get $3. The result is that essential county services are short-changed while the Board of Education has over $8M of our money sitting idle.

The County Commissioners: In general, the County Commissioners are aware of their responsibilities to keep taxes low. The process used by the commissioners to reach a consensus can be slow, tedious, and at times contentious, but it usually works. At all times the Board’s deliberations are open to the public and citizens are encouraged to comment on issues of concern. In 2016, as in most years, the budget development was particularly difficult because of pending increases in health care costs that necessitated a tax increase.

The HCPOA Board recognized that there was a substantial imbalance between the reserve funds available to the County Commission versus the School System… too low at the County level and much too high at the school system. So, to avoid a property tax increase, HCPOA proposed that the school system lower its millage rate slightly to offset the unavoidable increase at the county level.

Lower revenue at the school system could easily be replaced by withdrawing a small portion of their reserve fund. The school board refused to even consider helping the county out of its budget dilemma and a 20 percent increase in the county millage rate was then inevitable.

The School Board: HCPOA’s relationship with the Board and Superintendent has been “strained” for several years for three overriding reasons:

(1) A total lack of transparency regarding financial management, operating policies, and the opaque nature of their decision making process

(2) A conscious effort by the school boards to “stone wall” any response to tax payer inquiries and suggestions, and demonize anyone that complains.

(3) Inability or refusal of the School Board to recognize that it has a fiduciary responsibility to act as a “Good Shepherd” by protecting the financial interests of the taxpayers who provide the school system with its operating funds.

HCPOA has been trying for years to resolve these other issues with the School Board. Recent developments have added a heighted sense of urgency to our efforts and we will have more details to report to the citizens of Hart County very soon.