District tax hike ends year early

FORTVILLE — Mt. Vernon Community School taxpayers will see some tax relief in 2018.

The school district won’t collect the final installment of money generated by a three-year tax increase narrowly approved by voters in 2014. School board members voted unanimously Monday night to forgo billing taxpayers in 2018 the $1.1 million the tax hike generates each year, saying the district’s general fund budget is now balanced.

Property owners saw an increase this year of about 11 cents per every $100 of assessed property tax value during the first year of the three-year referendum and will see similar bills next year. That’s about $70 extra for a home valued at $150,000, officials said when the referendum was first proposed.

The hotly contested tax hike passed by nine votes in 2014 after similar proposals to get the school’s general fund out of debt failed in 2012 and 2010.

In 2014, the corporation’s general fund, which is used to pay salaries and other every day expenses, was $4.2 million in the hole. School board members planned to use the $2.5 million generated from the referendum to balance the general fund’s budget.

At the height of the recession, the general fund deficit was $11 million after declining enrollment and a significant decrease in state funding left many schools cash strapped.

On Monday night, school board president Mike McCarty said the district has been able to climb out of debt earlier than expected through increased enrollment — this year’s student body increased by 121, leading to about $650,000 more for the general fund — and a change in the state’s funding formula for schools, both of which generate more dollars.

Now, the district’s general fund boasts approximately $1.3 million of cash reserves; that balance is expected to reach $2.5 million by the end of 2016, officials said.

Superintendent Shane Robbins and business manager Brian Tomamichel projected conservative financial forecasts for multiple years and reviewed the district’s current financial situation before pitching a recommendation to the board, Robbins said.

Property taxes in 2018 for those living in the district will be the lowest they’ve been since 2010 as a result, said Robbins, who is finishing his first year leading the corporation. Former superintendent Bill Riggs was at the helm when the referendum was passed two years ago.

Robbins said the referendum accomplished what it was intended for. The school district doesn’t need the extra taxes and, therefore, won’t ask for them, he said.

“We hope to demonstrate we will only ask the community for what we need,” he said.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.