The Rankin County School Board has proposed a budget that calls for a tax increase from property owners.

The fiscal year 2020 budget, which was presented during a board meeting on Wednesday morning, includes a local increase of about $3.5 million from county taxpayers. The final budget will be adopted this fall by the Rankin County Board of Supervisors. 

If the tax increase is adopted, taxpayers will be paying about $20 more per year on a $100,000 house with a 2 mill increase. Homeowners of a $200,000 house will be paying an additional $40. 

Over the past decade, the millage rate in Rankin county has increased from 48.89 to 56.55. The increase would bump it up to 58.55 and represent an increase of almost 20 percent during this time period. 

A look at the school district

The Rankin County School District is the third largest school district in the state, behind just Desoto County and Jackson Public Schools. And while the county continues to grow, the school district does not.

Enrollment in 2013 stood at 19,284. It hasn’t been that high since and the district estimates enrollment to be 19,150 for the upcoming year. School officials regularly use the word “stabilized” to describe the district’s enrollment. Essentially, the district is educating the same number of children eight years later, or even experiencing a slight decline.

YearEnrollment
FY201319,284
FY201419,243
FY201519,127
FY201619,152
FY201719,183
FY201819,195
FY201919,144
FY2020 (estimate)19,150

These numbers are most noticeable in the early grades. While there were 1,509 students in kindergarten and 1,621 in first grade in RCSD in 2013, this past year there were just 1,365 and 1,438, respectively. 

At the same time, the county’s population has increased from just under 146,000 to 154,000 today. So, people are moving to the county, and/ or having children, they just aren’t going to the district schools in the same proportion. And the district benefits from the revenue they receive for the children they don’t have to pay to educate. 

This has helped the assessed property valuation to only increase. In 2013, it was $1.25 billion. It is now $1.47 billion. 

YearValuation (in billions)
FY2013$1.25
FY2014$1.275
FY2015$1.306
FY2016$1.334
FY2017$1.370
FY2018$1.417
FY2019$1.445
FY2020 (estimate)$1.474

The tax increase is intended to fund an increase to the local supplement for teachers and other personnel as well as additional safety and security expenditures. Both are important and worthwhile proposals that make very good sense and most would support. In fact, they should be near the top of any budget, rather than asking more of taxpayers. 

Over the past decade, property value has increased by 17.6 percent while enrollment is slightly down. Rankin county taxpayers were hit with a tax hike just a couple years ago. Each time we are told “it’s only a few dollars.”

Perhaps another tax hike would be more tolerable if priority items – such as a teacher pay raise – were prioritized in the budget, rather than being the item the county uses to sell another hike. 

Because when the county takes more money out of my pocket, my options are to either prioritize and cut expenses or earn more income through work. I can’t just propose an unbalanced budget (with more uses than sources) and expect someone else to pick up the tab.