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CMSD presents tax request to the city Tuesday morning — Tax increase estimated at 2.9 mills

The Columbus Municipal School District requested a total levy of $13,391,187 from the City of Columbus Tuesday morning. This amount is estimated to equal an increase of 2.9 mills. [The city school board does not set the millage; that is done by the levying authority. They request a dollar amount. – Brian Jones] This will increase the district’s total millage rate to 65.87 mills.
The CMSD’s budget request has been the source of much speculation and disagreement in recent weeks. At a July 19 budget hearing, the district estimated that it would need to raise its levy by nine mills to meet its budgetary needs, sparking a great public outcry.
The revised budget is requesting $10,705,140 in ad valorem taxes and $2,686,047 in debt service funds, for a total levy of $13,391,187.
According to a press release sent out by the CMSD Tuesday morning, “…according to County Tax Assessor Greg Andrews the budget request equates to a 2.9 mill increase. For taxpayers, the school district’s ad valorem tax request would increase homeowners’ property taxes for a $100,000 house by $28 per year.”
The district will also, for the ninth time in 10 years, declare a shortfall. The shortfall amount in FY11 is $909,818.
The press release goes on to describe the district’s dire financial situation.
The fund balance has been shrinking steadily for years: “The district’s fund balance has been declining significantly during the past several years. For the fiscal year 2010-2011, the district expended approximately $31. million more than the revenue generated based on estimates provided by Bonnie Granger, financial advisor for Columbus Schools. [According to material provided by Business Manager Ken Hughes at the July 19 budget hearing, the fund balance has declined from an FY07 amount of $11.4 million to about $3.5 million at the end of FY11. – Brian Jones] Some of this decline is attributable to one-time expenditures for additions to buildings, renovations to the Hunt building, district debt obligations, and losses in revenue from state and federal sources including significant loss of ARRA (stimulus) funding. A continued pattern of insufficient revenue will result in the district running out of fund balance within a couple of years…” [The district spent $527,000 out of the general fund renovating Hunt. Then-Superintendent Dr. Del Phillips stated Hunt would be closed, due to its age and the high cost of maintaining it, once the new Columbus Middle School was built. – Brian Jones] “Those sites [Lee and Hunt] aren’t going to be any better able to meet our needs than they are now, they’re just going to be prettier,” Dr. Phillips told the board back in November 2007. Eventual renovations included repairs and replacement of heating and air condition units to make them more energy efficient, repair of collapsed sewer lines, water leaks and exhaust fans, and installation of a new handicapped-access ramp. Rooms were painted, floors repaired, a security system was installed, windows were repaired and replaced, doorways were installed in hallways for energy efficiency, and the kitchen area was remodeled. Fire protection systems were upgraded, and timers were placed on lights. All this for a building the taxpayers of Columbus were told was no longer needed, that the district felt was incapable of being brought up to modern standards. The building is slated to be used as an alternative school and to house special education programs. – Brian Jones] The press release also stated:
“Based on the County Tax Assessor’s (Greg Andrews) calculations for the last several years at rates that would not generate the amount of revenue requested. [sic] Mr. Andrews stated the district’s millage has been set at a rate that did not generate the amount of revenue requested. Mr. Andrews stated that the district should expect a mill to generate approximately $205,000 for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, down from $208,000 for 2010-2011.”
“For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, the district received $909,818 less in total ad valorem tax dollars than requested by the Columbus Municipal School District’s Board of Trustees. To cover this deficiency, the district is planning to issue an ad valorem shortfall note in this amount pursuant to state statute. The district currently has shortfall notes outstanding for the 2008 and 2010 fiscal years.”
“On July 18, 2011, an informal meeting took place between the Mayor and his cabinet and the Superintendent, Business Manager, Board President, Board Vice-President and the district’s financial officer to discuss the financial condition of the school district. [As only two board members and three city councilmen were present, the city and the CMSD neatly circumvented the Open Meetings Act requirement that the public be informed of the meeting. – Brian Jones] At that time, the district was aware that the expenditures were going to exceed revenues generated in the current proposed budget. It is important to note that because district administrators were hired for this school year on March 8, 2011, and teachers who were not going to be rehired had to be informed by April 9, 2011, contracts issued must be honored for the 2011-2012 school year.”
“The purpose of the July 18, 2011, meeting was to ask the levying authority for assistance in the form of an increase in ad valorem revenue. At the meeting, Interim Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell, explained that the district would make significant cuts to the budget as soon as possible, but most of the cuts would have to take place for the 2012-2013 fiscal year due to the district’s contractual obligations that cannot be legally broken for salaries and benefits. It was explained during the meeting that over 75% of the district’s budget is obligated for salaries and benefits.”
The release states that the district found a total of $1.4 million in cuts for FY12 by not filling vacated positions and “reducing budget areas including support services, maintenance, technology, security, coaching supplements, and other non-contracted areas.”
The budget, the shortfall note and the ad valorem tax request were all approved during Monday night’s school board meeting. There was no discussion by board members, and they asked no questions.
[The meeting, from being called to order until adjournment, lasted 14:10, according to the timer on my tape recorder. The budget matters were all at the end of the meeting, and took just under three minutes. – Brian Jones] 0

1 comment

  1. Mike Cooper

    The CMSD should not need to ask for a millage increase, with the Federal Education Grants that should have been received. Are you serious?? If this, coupled with a superintendent who flew out of here right after building a new school, is not a wake up call for the State Department to follow the money into and out of this district.. I don’t know what is… I think it’s called a financial audit…and if the State Department follows the money, the figures won’t lie and the liars won’t figure…

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