Jackson County

They’re raising taxes, too? Gautier leaders left out of the loop on school’s increase

Gautier city leaders were surprised to find out the Pascagoula-Gautier School District raised taxes two days after Gautier leaders did, giving city residents a double whammy.
Gautier city leaders were surprised to find out the Pascagoula-Gautier School District raised taxes two days after Gautier leaders did, giving city residents a double whammy. amccoy@sunherald.com

Gautier residents are getting hit with a double tax increase — voted in by two entities, two days apart.

The city advertised its plans to increase taxes in order to offer firefighters, police and key city jobs a raise.

The City Council voted in a hike of 3.3 mills, about $66 a year for a $200,000 home. Gautier passed its budget and tax increase on Sept. 12.

Then the city learned that the Pascagoula-Gautier School District was raising taxes too — just under 4 mills, which will translate to almost $80 a year on a $200,000 home.

It wasn’t until after the city had voted in its tax increase, for what Gautier Mayor Phil Torjusen called much-needed raises, that they learned about the school’s plans.

The school district did not formally notify Gautier.

It is the City of Pascagoula that passed the school district’s budget on Sept. 14 — under protest because of the tax hike. Pascagoula is required to pass whatever the schools need.

State law doesn’t require the schools or Pascagoula to tell Gautier, even though citizens in both cities pay the school taxes.

Now Gautier residents are looking at about a $140 a year increase on a $200,000 home. (Figure each mill translates to about $10 in tax for each $100,000 in home value.)

“At least, I wish I had known they were going to do it,” Torjusen said. “I didn’t find out about it until all was said and done.”

“I didn’t get any communication from any member of the School Board or the school administration,” Torjusen said. “I haven’t heard from them yet.”

“It is amazing to me right now,” the Gautier mayor said, “so I’ll deal with that.

“We’re going to have citizens effected by that, and we already put on a tax levy,” he said.

Torjusen said the raise will help stabilize police and firefighter salaries so Gautier won’t keep losing trained first responders to Pascagoula and Biloxi.

Councilman Casey Vaughan said the tax increase will bring the city’s total mills to 41, “still making Gautier the second lowest in Jackson County.”

If the city is to grow, it has to provide services and remain competitive, Vaughan said.

School Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich said the School District got some last-minute bad news of its own.

He said the School District learned four days before their last School Board meeting that there was a $57 million drop in industrial property values in the school district. They needed a tax increase to cover the operating costs they couldn’t absorb, he said.

Then they also added a 2.62-mill increase for additions, upgrades to buildings, new stadium turf and a new Performing Arts Center at Pascagoula High School — a first for the city.

He said the improvements are part of their strategic plan that includes fixing 60-year-old buildings.

Rodolfich pointed out that they have only had two tax increases since 2005, so it wasn’t something the cities would have been expecting.

“I think they’re used to us being fairly consistent,” he said.

He said the School Board advertised its actions over several weeks as legal ads in the local paper, so nothing was done in secret, he said.

“We advertised the amount we would need to operate,” he said. “We didn’t know it would require a tax increase.”

But he pointed out, “even with this increase, we are still 2.55 mills beneath the millage rate we were at in 2005.”

Pascagoula did not raise city taxes and Ocean Springs raised city taxes but not school taxes, so Gautier was the only one hit from both sides.