On Monday, July 10, Milford School District Board of Education voted to lower the school tax portion of their property rates by 7.6 percent. The reduced rate was approved despite significant cuts to state district funding after legislators eliminated a $400 million budget deficit to balance the state budget in early July.
Effective this year, homeowners in Sussex County will pay $4.9841 per $100 of assessed value while Kent County will pay $1.7636 per assessed value. Because Kent County properties have been assessed more recently than Sussex County, the state uses a formula to equalize rates for school taxes. There has not been a property assessment in Sussex County since 1974.
“It is important to remember that property taxes are based on assessed value, not resale value of your home,” Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer, said. “The equalization of the rates between Kent and Sussex County means homes of equal value in each county pay the same tax rate, even though the actual rate seems higher.”
The new rate means that a home with an assessed value of $29,250 in Kent County could see a decrease in property tax of $42.15, while a home assessed at $114,456 could see a drop of $164.93. In Sussex County, a home assessed at $10,350 would see the same $42.15 drop while one assessed at $40,500 would see the same $164.93 decrease.
During the board meeting, Ms. Croce also explained how the decrease in school funding would affect Milford School District. “The reduction to Milford School District alone was $771,790.87,” Ms. Croce explained. “The legislators did not allow us to add a match tax to recover any of those costs and they cannot be recovered through property taxes. We will need to make some adjustments and cuts to the budget in order to balance it for the upcoming year.”
Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent, said that the district was looking at many different ways to reduce costs in order to balance the budget for the upcoming year. He said that some of the changes made throughout the year were what allowed the district to lower property taxes slightly this year. In previous meetings, Dr. Dickerson has said that he plans to establish a committee to determine whether the old Milford Middle School building could be renovated for a special needs school in order to keep even more students with special needs in the district.
“We will be holding a special meeting on Thursday, July 20 at Milford Central Academy,” Dr. Dickerson said. “The meeting will begin at 6 PM with an Executive Session and then we will reconvene into a regular meeting at 7 PM. At this meeting, we will present our methods for balancing the budget with the significant cuts we are facing for the upcoming year.”
In 2016, the district increased property taxes significantly due to unexpectedly high tuition costs the year before. Tuition costs are fees paid for services provided outside of the district for special needs children. Although the state pays 70 percent of those tuition costs, the district must pay the additional 30 percent. Ms. Croce explained at the time of the increase that the district’s share to place one student in a residential facility due to their educational needs was $100,000.
“With the increase last year, we were able to create a contingency fund that we did not have before,” Ms. Croce explained. “We were caught off guard the year before and we had no funds put away to cover those unexpected costs. We have worked to create programs so more students can remain in the district, reducing our costs. Unfortunately, we do not know if some of the districts will now pass along their loss in state funding to us. State law allows them to not only charge us for added costs this year, but go back two years and present us with those costs. That is what happened last year. We saw increases of over 30 percent in some cases.”
The district was also able to lower their debt reduction tax rate by taking a more aggressive approach using Kent County Impact Fees. Although using the fees did not lower the district’s debt, it allowed them to lower property tax rates.
“I see that you have been able to decrease our taxes slightly,” Peter Carpenter said. “However, last year we saw an increase in some cases of over 50 percent. This is just a small fraction of what our taxes increased last year. We need to be able to see where cuts are being made and how the district will manage the recent cuts so that an increase like that never happens again.” David Markowitz agreed, telling the board that he would like to see actual numbers of teacher and administrator positions cut from the district budget to reduce costs.
Dr. Dickerson said that the district was considering reallocating positions or cashing out administrative positions in an effort to lower expenses. Ms. Croce explained that they considered some cuts to the Academic Excellence program but that could lead to the loss of funding in other areas that were connected to the Academic Excellence program.
In addition to the cuts to the district, state legislators also reduced the Senior Property Tax Credit that can be used to lower the property tax owed by senior citizens. Previously, seniors could apply to lower their property tax rate by 50 percent or $500, whichever was higher. This year, the credit was reduced to 50 percent or $400. School Board President Renate Wiley emphasized that this was not something the district could do anything about.
“Seniors who were getting that credit may not see as big a reduction,” Ms. Wiley explained. “The $100 deduction could make a difference. I wish there was something we could do about it, but there is nothing we can do.”
The district was pleased that the district would still only pay 10 percent of transportation costs as there were proposals to change the amount the district would have to pay to 15 or 20 percent. In addition, the deductions to public schools were lowered when charter schools were also included in the formula that determines how much state funding will be removed from district budgets.
“I want to thank the board and the staff for the work they have done to put this all together,” Jennifer Cinnelli-Miller said. “They have provided us with information all throughout this process and I commend them for that. I want to say that I was at the budget hearings at Legislative Hall. It was me, Ron Evans and Sara Croce. That’s it. The tourism people were in the faces of legislators and they were fully funded, but education was cut. Grant-In-Aid were in their faces and, although they did suffer some cuts, they were funded. Police officers, firefighters, correctional officers were all there in full force. But there were only three of us there from Milford. We need to stop sitting back and thinking our legislators are going to do this on their own. We need to step up and let them know these massive cuts to education are not acceptable. Until we do, this will continue to happen until there is no funding for public education. Let’s make our voices heard.”
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