Jackson County

Pascagoula takes back the tax increase the school system wanted

Pascagoula’s City Council, pictured recently with Mayor Dane Maxwell, right, looked at the issue of the Pascagoula-Gautier School District tax on Thursday night.
Pascagoula’s City Council, pictured recently with Mayor Dane Maxwell, right, looked at the issue of the Pascagoula-Gautier School District tax on Thursday night. klnelson@sunherald.com

The Pascagoula City Council on Thursday said the school district didn’t follow the law when it asked for a nearly 4-mill tax increase, so they took it back.

The majority of the City Council voted to rescind the tax hike that would have raised taxes in Pascagoula and Gautier by 1.34 mills to pay for school operating costs and 2.62 mills to pay off a $22 million loan the school planned to make over 10 years for a performing arts center in Pascagoula, stadium turf and improvements to aging buildings.

Pascagoula voted on Sept. 14 to give the Pascagoula-Gautier School District the tax hike it wanted. But they approved it under protest. They since found out the school system didn’t follow the law when making its request.

It appears the schools didn’t give Pascagoula adequate information, warning and notice in a timely manner.

The school tax increase came as a surprise to Gautier leaders who had, just two days prior, raised their city’s taxes by 3.3 mills to pay raises to key employees and first responders in an effort to make their pay more competitive.

This left Gautier with an unexpected extra tax, putting the total increase for the city at more than 7 mills, which translates to about $140 a year on a $200,000 home. Pascagoula city did not raise taxes.

But Pascagoula has the taxing authority for the schools.

On Thursday, without much explanation, the Pascagoula City Council went into executive session to confer with its attorney.

They said the reason was for potential litigation, which means they expect the School District to take this to court.

They came out and voted 4-1 to amend the tax levy for the coming school year. Mayor Dane Maxwell, Councilman Stephen Burrow, Councilwoman Jennifer Colmer and Councilman George Wolverton voted for. Councilman Scott Tipton voted no. Two councilmen recused themselves.

Gautier Councilman Casey Vaughan, who attended the meeting, said his city learned the school district “failed on multiple levels to comply with statutory requirements in order to increase their millage.”

Vaughan said, based on that failure, it was his understanding that Pascagoula had to take back the tax increase in order to follow the law.

Gautier has been conferring with Pascagoula on the issue. Gautier Mayor Phil Torjusen told the Sun Herald last week how his city was surprised by the schools tax increase.

“I told you I’d deal with it,” he said Thursday night. “I did.”

Pascagoula Mayor Maxwell said Thursday night the Pascagoula City Council doesn’t like tax increases. And later in a press release said, they are adamant about not raising taxes.

The vote on Thursday night sets the Pascagoula-Gautier School District millage at 45.88, what it was before the 4 mills the schools asked for.

Maxwell asked that the city’s appointees to the School Board meet with the City Council on Oct. 3.

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