On May 22, by a vote of 8 to 4, the Greenville County School Board approved a new budget with a 2.3 mill tax increase to cover general fund expenses. This is the second general fund tax increase approved by the School Board since 2013. It is expected to generate $3 million in revenues for the Greenville County School District, which has more than 70,000 students, is the largest in the state, and 44th largest in the nation.
Under Act 388, taxes for a school district’s general fund are not levied on owner-occupied homes in South Carolina. As a result, homeowners will see no tax increase unless a home is used as rental property. This tax increase will be paid by businesses.
There is another tax increase expected by the School Board on June 27. This will be a 4.6 mill tax increase for capital improvements, and unlike the first, business owners and homeowners alike will pay it. Among the improvements are the following new schools:
- New Fountain Inn High School, projected to cost $67.2 million
- New elementary school, expected to cost $44.4 million
- Career Technology Innovation/Incubation Center, projected to cost $10.5 million
Those in favor of the increases say that the money is needed to keep up with district growth, and contend that additional tax payments will not be that much, providing the following examples:
- A restaurant with an assessed value of $316,040 would see its taxes rise by $87.23 annually for the district’s capital projects fund, and by $43.61 for the district’s general operations fund, for a total annual tax increase of $130.87.
- A pharmacy with an assessed value of $602,270 would pay $166.23 more each year in taxes for the district’s capital projects fund, and $83.11 more annually for the district’s general operations, for a total annual tax increase of $249.34.
Those opposing the tax increases question their need for several reasons. First, since more students are entering the Greenville County School District as a result of population growth, the taxes from the additional families living in the area should cover the cost to have their children educated by the system. More students mean more homes, and the millage formula is tied directly to aggregate home values in the county.
The second reason has to do with how the money will be spent, and the lack of accountability by the school board trustees who vote for the increases. In years past, a state-based legislative delegation reviewed such requests to decide if they were justified. Now, the school board simply takes a vote, and their only accountability is to the voters at election time. Unfortunately, school board elections do not require runoff elections when more than two candidates run. The candidate with the most votes wins, and does not require the typical “above 50%” rule of other elections. Thus, voters need to be diligent about deciding who they elect as school board members.