Union County commissioners reject 13.2% tax hike

Union County commissioners voted against a controversial 13.2 percent tax increase Monday night that would have been used to cover additional school district expenses.

Commissioners instead gave tentative approval to a 2014-15 budget with no tax increase. But there’s still a chance taxes could rise when commissioners take a final budget vote June 16.

Commissioners said they wanted more details from school officials on their priorities for capital expenses, and whether the school board would be satisfied with the direction commissioners were going with in the budget.

Commissioners Chair Frank Aikmus and Vice Chair Jerry Simpson voted in favor of the tax increase, but the other three members voted against it for now. The vote came after a nearly hourlong public hearing.

The school board had requested $97.7 million in capital expenses and $89.9 million for general operating funds.

The county’s budget initially allocated $19.5 million for capital and $85.4 million for general expenses for the district. That would have increased the tax rate on real estate and personal property from 66 cents per $100 valuation to 74.69 cents.

Monday’s tentative approval of the budget keeps the tax rate at 66 cents and gives the school district $84.2 million to cover general operating expenses but nothing for capital expenses.

During the public hearing, students, parents and the school board chairman asked commissioners to consider the needs of the school system in making their final decision, citing both building repairs and pay raises as areas where funds were urgently needed.

“I’m looking at this not so much as where (the money) is going to come from,” school board Chairman Richard Yercheck said. “I’m looking at who I’m going to have to tell is not gonna get that pay increase.”

County resident Doug Cox said while he supports the schools, the tax increase was unfair to people like his father, who lives on a fixed income. “I’m asking you to look for other ways to fund this budget,” he said.

For the first time, county commissioners are considering two components of the tax rate, instead of one overall rate, with the split rate covering county functions and public school functions. The move upset school board members who felt they were being singled out to be blamed for a tax increase.

There is no tax increase planned for county functions.

This is the second year of fierce budget battles between the school board and county commissioners. Last year, the board sued over its budget allocation, and won a $91 million judgment which commissioners continue to appeal.

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