Division flared Monday over the prospect of a tax hike mainly on business that supporters call vital to keep schools on the north side of Lake Murray among the best in South Carolina.
Lexington-Richland 5 officials are weighing a property tax hike as much as $94 for operations, the second-highest under consideration in spending plans taking shape for classrooms in the Midlands.
“If we are not careful, we will become ordinary,” Superintendent Stephen Hefner said in urging the maximum tax hike instead of spending cuts that he said will start to hinder instruction.
But the tax hike suggested is too much for some long-time school supporters.
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“You need to look at what you’re doing,” said Albert Bueno of Chapin, operators of a data information company. “You need to tighten your belt – these are tough times for everybody.”
School officials need to start looking at economizing more and relying less on “bracket creep” through consistent tax hikes, Susan Baker of Chapin added.
Some of the seven school board members back the tax hike while others are uncertain as a decision on it approaches.
“It’s going to hurt business more in the long run to deny schools the funding they have to have,” board member Ed White said.
The leader of one business group suggested top-rated schools sometimes require higher taxes. “We want to keep the tax burden as low as possible for our businesses and ask that you continue to find ways to maintain our schools’ superior performance with the least possible impact on business,” said Tiffany Boyce Heitzman of the Greater Irmo Chamber of Commerce.
Former board member Kim Murphy of Chapin agreed instruction should be protected most but said “exorbitant spending” can be eliminated, such as the pay raise given to board members.
Hefner supported cuts of $1.5 million for things such as supplies and travel, but said more threaten to affect academic performance.
The fuss is over an increase smaller than one awaiting approval in fast-growing Lexington 1.
Increases for area schools proposed range from nearly $32 in Lexington 3 to $119 in Lexington 1 on commercial equipment and facilities valued at $100,000. Vehicles owners pay much smaller amounts.
Homes are exempt from tax increases for school operations.
The school increases taking shape are at least double recent levels.
Educators say they have little choice.
The jump stems mainly from what officials said is determination to keep student-teacher ratios from climbing and the need for employee pay raises amid declining state aid and slower local property tax growth.
Unlike others, Richland 1 and Lexington 2 are not seeking to raise taxes for operations.
But taxes in both are going up on homes and businesses for new facilities and building renovations.
In Richland 1, the $60 million package of new athletic facilities and other improvements means $60 more a year on a home valued at $100,000.
The increase in Lexington 2 will be $120 more a year for a home valued at $100,000 after voters approved the step to pay for $225 million in new facilities and renovations.
Stores, shops and industry will pay even more in both areas, although amounts will vary.
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483