School board proposed wheel tax hike dies in county budget meeting

Published in print June 10, 2015

Members head back to drawing board Thursday
CELINA-A proposed $45 wheel tax increase fell by the wayside here at a county budget meeting late last month, according to school board chairman David West.
“They basically rejected the idea,” West told the HORIZON Monday. “Now we’re heading back to the drawing board this week.”
In their May meeting, the school board unanimously voted to “approve the 2015-16 general purpose school budget and to request that the county commission raise the wheel tax by $45 to fund the increase,” recently released minutes from May 21 said.
West explained the increase “was about $300,000,” and attributed the need for additional funds to “continued unfunded state mandates” combined with the new federally mandated healthcare costs associated with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“We’ve been cutting into our fund balance for quite awhile to cover the increased state mandates—to the point we are running out of money, and now add in the new healthcare requirements,—something’s got to give,” West said. “We’ve got to figure out how to pay for this as soon as possible, because we must have a budget in place by October 1 or the state will cut off our funding.”
West, director of schools Jerry Strong, other board members, and staff explained the dilemma to commissioners at a budget meeting held May 26 and made their wheel tax recommendation.
“Generally among the board members, we believe it is a more fair tax,” West said when asked why the board recommended the wheel tax hike. “Only about 30% of the population owns property, while a much higher percentage owns a vehicle.”
West said commissioners shot down the school board’s proposal at the meeting.
Now he and the school board will go to work on coming up with another solution Thursday here at the school system’s central office beginning with a planning meeting at 5:30 p.m. before the regular June board meeting at 6 p.m.
“Our director of schools has already cut over $700,000 from the budget over the last three years trying to counter this deficit,” West said. “This is not something that has just come up.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time and will continue to consider everything possible to come up with an answer.”
The next possible time the commission could take up the matter will come June 29 at their June meeting set for 6:30 p.m.

By the numbers
• Nearly 6,700 registered vehicles paying the additional $45 wheel tax would be needed to fund the $300,000 increase to the school budget.
• The current wheel tax is $25 and it would increase to a total of $70 with the proposed hike.
• The $300,000 increase represents just over a 3% rise to the total school budget approaching $9 million.
• A 30-cent property tax increase would be needed to fund the same shortfall.
• The current Clay County property tax rate is $3.10 and is figured on every $100 of assessed property value.
• The school budget is currently funded with $1.13 of the total property tax rate.
• A 30-cent tax hike would represent nearly a 10% property tax increase.
See a future HORIZON for more on this ongoing story.