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McCormick BOE, County Council hold joint meeting Tuesday on property tax hike

McCormick Board of Education Update:
Joint Meeting with Council Council Tuesday on tax hike
By Chuck Cook

Without discussing their reasons, McCormick County Council members have deferred the third and final
reading of the school district’s proposed budget for the coming year, pending a further joint meeting on the issue.

This action was taken at council’s regular monthly meeting on June 20. That joint meeting is scheduled for 5:00
p.m. Tuesday, June 27, at the MES/MMS Media Center at the school complex and is open to the public. Council
also voted to place a continuing resolution on the agenda for that meeting, in the event that the district’s budget is
not approved before the end of June.

The school district’s proposed general fund budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, was
approved by the trustees at their regular monthly meeting on June 12. It totals $11,393,200, which is an increase of
8.46% over their 2022-23 budget of $10,504,000, and would require a 10 mill increase in property taxes to support
it, from 151 mills to 161 mills. The millage rate on real property for the operational budget of the district is
applicable under Act 388 of 2006 to only non-resident taxpayers, including small businesses. It is applicable to all
taxpayers for their personal property tax liabilities, although – comparatively – the impact is relatively smaller than
for real property.

The major issues discussed by the board members prior to their approval of the budget proposal were the
impact of the large millage increase on taxpayers, and the perceived need for significant wage and salary increases
to recruit and retain district employees. The fear on the part of some board members was that it would have an
adverse effect on attracting and retaining small business ventures in the county, particularly when anticipated overall
county and school property tax millage increases are considered. In general, non-resident property owners pay 2½
to 3 times as much as resident property owners with the same property valuations on their combined county/school
tax levies.

The employee recruitment and retention issue was also a major consideration with comparisons made
between what the district is paying its employees versus what other neighboring counties are paying, including
teachers and school employees in Lincoln County, Georgia. This is a significant issue for the district, considering
the larger populations of most of those SC school districts which result in higher mill values and the ability to raise
revenues for salaries with much smaller millage increases. In addition, housing and commuting costs are important
issues for employees with high turnover rates occurring when job openings occur that are closer to their homes.
Consequently, non-salary benefits for living in the county may be just as important, if not more so, than salary

District administration recommended a smaller budget that would have required an 8 mill increase, but
would have included those wage, salary and employer paid increases mandated by the state legislature in their
budget figures for the coming year. These include a step increase for all employees, $2,500 salary increases to each
cell of the teacher’s salary schedule, a 25% salary increase to the state base of the bus driver’s salary schedule, a 3%
salary increase for other employees, a 1% increase to the district’s retirement cost, and a 4% increase to the
employer paid portion of employee health insurance (effective January 1, 2024). In addition, the administration’s
recommended budget – that would have added an additional $232,000 in salary costs – provided an additional
$1,000 salary increase for teachers and an additional 4% increase for all other employees.

The budget approved by the trustees by a vote of 5 to 2 and submitted to council for approval added an
additional $290,000 to the legislature’s base increases, an additional $1,000 in teacher’s salaries, and a 6% increase
for all other employees. A further argument for higher salaries for non-teachers was the need to pay a “living wage”
to these employees, although it was pointed out that many of these lower paid positions are not full-time and do not
cover an entire 12-months of employment.

Another proposal considered by the trustees, but not adopted, would have used a portion of the projected
$350,000 surplus in the 2022-23 budget to pay for the salary increases they wanted without requiring such a large
increase in the millage rate for the coming year. The district’s financial advisor, David Loadholt, and
Superintendent Jaime Hembree – along with a few other board members – argued that using one-time funds for
continuing budget requirements, i.e., permanent salary increases, would merely postpone a millage increase for
another year and to a time period with uncertain economic circumstances that may make it more difficult to

Also discussed was the ability of the district to spread the continuing costs of salary increases across
multiple years by implementing allowable millage increases waived in one year during any of the following three
fiscal years. This would minimize the immediate impact on taxpayers of a large millage increase in a single year.
Based on the increases in the Consumer Price Index during the past year, the district was authorized under state law
to levy an increase of up to 12 additional mills to support their operational budget for the coming school year,
although – as indicated above – any deferred millage increases may be levied up to three years thereafter.
In addition to the district’s proposed operational millage levy of 161 mills, the district would also levy 27
mills to cover their debt servicing of the one-year sale of around $1 million in general obligation bonds for capital
expenditures that was approved by the trustees earlier this year. The additional 27 mills for GOBs is not an increase
and has been levied for infrastructure improvements at the school complex for each of the preceding three years.
This levy does not require the approval of county council and is applicable to all county taxpayers.

In other business at the school board’s June 12 meeting –
# Trustees approved the district’s recommendations for new hires, including a new band director; and first readings
of new or revisions to policies covering student dress codes, the use of cell phones and electronic
communications devices, safety plans and drills, and paid parental leave.
# Trustees approved the second and final reading of new policies covering staff leave and absences, along with a
new position description for an executive administrative assistant to the superintendent and a new college and
career preparation program to replace the existing AVID program.
The next regular monthly board meeting is scheduled for July 10 at the MES/MMS Media Center at the
school complex. The public (open) portion of the meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m.

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