City approves tax levy

CITY OF HOUSTON FLAG

HOUSTON – Taxes collected by the City of Houston will increase but city taxes will not.

The Houston Board of Aldermen approved the Houston School District’s budget and then set the city’s tax levy in two votes at a special called meeting Thursday night at City Hall.

The first vote saw aldermen approve the district’s budget as presented by the Houston School Board on a 2-1 vote. The motion to approve was made by Ward 3 Alderman Frank Thomas with a second by Ward 1 Alderman Tony Uhiren. Ward 2 Alderman Shenia Jones voted against it. Ward 4 Alderman Willie Mae McKinney and Alderman At Large Barry Springer were absent.

“I know I can’t stop it, but I can vote against it,” Jones said about the district’s budget. “It’s not that I am against the school district – I want better schools – but taxes can’t keep going up like this.”

City tax levies have not gone up in eight years and after Thursday’s vote currently stand a 36.75 mills. From that amount 24 mills services the general fund, 1.75 mills goes to the Library Fund, 4.3 mills goes to the Park Fund, 6.45 mills goes to the 2010 Street Assessment Fund and .25 mills to the Rail-to-Trail District fund.

The Houston School District has budgeted an approximate 4-percent increase in ad valorem taxes from property owners in the Houston School District this year. Last year’s school assessment was 49.95 mills.

Houston Municipal School District has levied 53.10 mills for school purposes this year. From that amount 50.56 mills services the district’s maintenance fund, 2.22 mills goes to ten, 20-year notes and 32 mills is allocated to service a special shortfall note.

A one-mill increase in the Houston School District raised $57,000 based on last year’s tax rolls. A one-mill increase in the City of Houston raises approximately $28,000. A one-mill increase in Chickasaw County raises approximately $90,000.

The second vote to accept the city/school tax levy passed 3-0 with the motion made by Jones and seconded by Thomas and supported by Uhiren.

“We need to see some improvement in the district for our money, especially in our dropout rate,” said Jones. “We (city aldermen) put three people on that school board, and we need to see some accountability. They can’t keep doing this to us year after year just because they can. People out there can’t take this.”

State law allows school trustees to raise ad valorem taxes 4-percent without a referendum. An increase of more than 4-percent requires the issue to be put to a vote, which must pass by 50-percent, plus one vote.

The ultimate taxing authority rests with the City of Houston Board of Aldermen and the Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors. Those bodies have traditionally approved school district tax increase under the 4-percent threshold. The law is also rather vague on this tax increase since it also says cities and counties must pass balanced school budgets. Not passing a tax increase could give the district a budget deficit.

“I would have thought a school board member or school administrator would have been here tonight,” said Thomas. “I have heard there have been cuts. All I want is to ask them to be better financial stewards and be more professional with us.”

Thomas pointed out he once served on the school board and has seen how the administration puts together budgets and presents them to the school board.

Thursday’s special called meeting was also a public hearing with two people commenting on the tax levy. Aldermen will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday to finalize and adopt the city 2013-14 budget.

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