County to host forum on school funding

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Butler County Commission will host a public forum on Tuesday, Feb. 27 at the County Courthouse Annex to discuss funding solutions for future construction projects in the school system.

The forum starts at 6:30 p.m.

&#8220We support public education because public education is our future,” said Commission Chairman Jesse McWilliams.

Superintendent Mike Looney has been busy visiting city and county leaders in an effort to acquire more local funding for the Board of Education's proposed $25 million construction plan. The McKenzie Town Council raised corporate sales tax by one cent at its last meeting and Looney has indicated that Georgiana - which stands to receive a $14 million new school to replace outdated R.L. Austin Elementary and Georgiana High School - will also contribute some sort of local tax to the system.

Looney has yet to formally address Greenville officials, but McWilliams said the commission would take some action on the school system's proposal at its March meeting.

The upcoming forum, he said, is to allow the public input on what actions the commission should take.

McWilliams said he also respected the Board of Education's desire to start construction as quickly as possible.

Looney has said he wishes to have all local funding commitments in place before the end of April.

&#8220We know through working with getting construction started on our new jail that building costs are increasing rapidly,” said McWilliams.

The commission has the authority to raise sales tax and the Board of Education is asking for an additional half-cent to be levied to support school construction. The half-cent would generate $1.3 million over the Board's current budget, according to data submitted by Looney, enough for the school district to borrow $25 million and make capital improvements.

The only other option would be raising property taxes, which would have to be voted on by the county.

Currently, the county school system receives 12 mils of ad valorem tax, two mils above the state required minimum.

That would be an unpopular choice for the citizens of Butler County to make, said Commissioner Jerry Hartin.

&#8220Me, I'm leaning toward the sales tax increase,” he said. &#8220Nobody likes taxes, but our schools are very important to us.”

Commissioner Frank Hickman wondered if the citizens of Butler County should have a vote in any potential sales tax increase.

Looney said he understood that the commission had a difficult decision ahead.

&#8220They represent the taxpayers of Butler County and we respect that,” he said. &#8220We certainly welcome their commitment to county schools.”