Aiken residents hear school mill hike proposal

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AIKEN--The proposed school operating tax increase drew the attention of community members during the public input meeting on 2012-13 budget held by Aiken County Public Schools on Tuesday.

The tentative budget calls for a 4.6-mill school operating tax increase that would raise the current operating millage of 131.6 mills to 136.2 mills. The increase would not affect primary residences. If the increase is adopted, it would be the first time in two years the school board has increased the millage for school operations.

The tentative budget doesn’t include an increase in the debt service millage.

The tentative budget calls for several changes including a 2 percent increase for all employees; an additional 2 percent increase for assistant principals, bringing their total to a 4 percent increase in salary; creation of three curriculum coach positions, two educational technology positions and a volunteer coordinator position; and one-time funding for completion of wireless overlay, platform migration and textbooks and instruction supplies for Advance Placement classes.

The budget also eliminates four middle school reading intervention positions due to the lottery funding for the positions no longer being sufficient and reflects a state-mandated increase in employer retirement contribution rates and employer health insurance premiums.

The proposed millage increase, along with the fund balance for one-time costs, will be used to cover the changes, said Tray Traxler, the district’s comptroller.

Aiken resident Debbie Nix was among those who strongly opposed the millage increase.

Nix is a realtor, owns a plumbing, electrical, heating and air business, and a vacation properties business. She said she feels that the increase will have a negative impact on small businesses and their clients or customers.

“As business owners, we have to make a profit, which is really hard right now,” she said. “Small businesses are not enjoying the supposed recovery right now….Anytime we have an increase in materials, an increase in gas prices, our taxes have to be passed on to the customer for us to be able to survive.”

While several spoke against the increase, fellow Aiken resident Cindy Besson is in favor of it.

“We need the money to improve the technology, the buildings, and the tech support for the teachers,” said Besson, a local physician and the president of the Aiken High School PTSA. “They have not raised the millage in a couple of years, so they need to… It costs money to fund schools and we as taxpayers have to pay the taxes to be able to provide for the schools.”

School board member Keith Liner said the biggest misconception about the mill increase is that the average homeowner will be greatly affected.

“The way the system is set up in South Carolina, small businesses or rental property owners, people that have a second property take the brunt of the burden,” he said. “For the average homeowner, it won’t cost them anything for their primary residence but it will for their cars, boats, trucks and things like that.”

As for the tentative budget items, he said he feels “comfortable” with what’s in the budget.

“I think the things that affect student achievement are the most important things to emphasize like computer technology and curriculum coaches,” he said.

The school board will host a public hearing for the budget and millage next Tuesday. The 2012-13 budget is scheduled to be adopted June 26.

To view the complete tentative budget, visit acps.schoolfusion.us.

MILLAGE INCREASE

Below is the cost to taxpayers, by category, if the 4.6-mill increase is adopted as part of the final budget.

Primary residences -- 4 percent property: $0

Agricultural (private) -- 4 percent property: $18.40 per $100,000

Other real property such as businesses, second residences, rental property and agricultural (corporate) -- 6 percent property: $27.60 per $100,000

Cars, trucks, RVs, motorcycles -- 6 percent property: $2.76 per $10,000

Manufacturing and utility properties -- 10.5 percent property: $48.30 per $100,000

Boat -- 10.5 percent property: $4.83 per $10,000

Source: Aiken County Public Schools


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