Jackson County

Pascagoula is suing itself. The school system says it’s worth it.

Pascagoula Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich walks through the halls of Trent Lott Middle School in 2016. The school system wants to raise taxes to pay for a new performing arts center, improvements to the stadiums and fields and improvements to aging buildings throughout.
Pascagoula Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich walks through the halls of Trent Lott Middle School in 2016. The school system wants to raise taxes to pay for a new performing arts center, improvements to the stadiums and fields and improvements to aging buildings throughout. Sun Herald file

Pascagoula and Gautier schools have already borrowed the money, so they really need the tax increase that the city of Pascagoula gave them, then took back on Sept. 21.

They need the tax increase to pay operating expenses too — because industrial tax money is down — but they really need it to pay back the $22 million loan over the next 10 years.

On Thursday, the school district sued the city, which as far as the taxpayers are concerned is Pascagoula suing itself.

All the local judges bowed out of this one, and the state Supreme Court was asked to send a judge last week.

One member of the audience at the emergency hearing on Friday said, “maybe we just need to talk this out.”

But instead they are waiting on the state Supreme Court to send another judge.

The judge the state sent on Friday had a conflict of interest.

The reason the Friday hearing was considered an emergency was because Pascagoula’s new budget year went into effect over the weekend and the tax rate is set for the coming year. The schools were hoping to head that off.

Late Monday, the schools were still waiting for a new judge.

In the lawsuit, the Pascagoula-Gautier School District says it has had decades of cooperation with city leaders until this year.

Pascgoula elected an almost completely new slate of city leaders — a new mayor and all but one on the City Council — a majority of whom oppose tax increases, Mayor Dane Maxwell has said.

The schools say the city doesn’t have a choice, it has to raise taxes. The law says it is required to set taxes to cover the school system’s expenses.

That will be heard in court.

Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich said it was no secret the school system intended to borrow money this year for projects. It made the first announcement in November. Paying off the debt would require a 2.62-mill increase. (The amount needed for operating costs is 1.34 mills. Combined, the nearly 4-mill tax hike would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $140.)

The school district took out the loan on May 12 and the first payment is due May 2018, according to the court papers.

But all that was before the city put into place its new leadership.

The school district is asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order on the city until they can sort it out.

History: The new Pascagoula City Council passed the school district’s request of about a 4-mill tax increase under protest on Sept. 14. Then on Sept. 21, the council took it back and reset the school millage at 45.88, what it was last year.

The two tax levies the schools want:

▪  One to generate about $1.3 million to help with operating costs, because the value of taxable industrial property in the school district dropped $57 million.

▪  The other so the schools can borrow $22 million for a new performing arts center for Pascagoula, new turf for stadium fields, and major upgrades to aging buildings.

The school district is asking Circuit Court to at least make the city reinstate the 2.62 mills that would cover the loan. It’s part of 3 mills the schools is allowed to have to pay off debt.

Since 2012, the school system has been debt free, but the new improvements are part of a strategic plan, Rodolfich said. He also said he believes the conflict arose because the new leaders want to have a say in what the school system will build with the money it borrowed.

Rodolfich said that’s an issue of separation of powers. He said the schools used a committee of 250 to decide on the building and improvements plan.

  Comments