After releasing information last week on the St. John School Board’s decision to increase millage rates, I realized further information was needed to explain to the public how such decisions can be made without voter approval.
So, what is a millage, exactly, and what do property taxes have to do with school funding?
Millage refers to a tax rate levied (imposed/charged) on real estate and other property. A mill equates to one thousandth of a dollar, or one tenth of a cent.
The School Board, the Parish Council and the Sheriff’s Office set millage rates for the parish. According to the St. John Assessor’s website, property tax revenues fund schools, roads, law enforcement, fire protection and other government services provided to taxpayers.
The millage rate represents how many dollars of tax are assessed for every $1,000 of property value.
In 2020, the St. John Assessor was mandated by law to reassess properties in the parish. This process must take place every four years to ensure that properties are assessed at the present fair market value. The assessor has not created this value; rather, property value is determined by the transactions of buyers and sellers in the market. The St. John Sheriff’s Office serves as the tax collector for the parish and sends out yearly tax bills calculated from the assessments and millage rates.
Local property values are on the rise, presenting a double-edged sword. This makes for a great seller’s market, but it also means residents will have to pay more in property taxes if their property is now deemed to be a higher value.
Now let’s look at the School Board situation. On June 17, the Board voted to roll forward/increase millage rates, but not in excess of the prior year’s maximum rate, on all taxable property shown on the official assessment roll for the year 2021. The estimated amount to be collected in the next year from tax revenue with the increased millage is $31,742,812.35, and the amount of increase in taxes attributable to the millage is $9,684,171.99. I can’t say how much taxes will go up for the individual person because this depends on your property value.
This increase was approved without having to go to the ballot for voter approval, which raised the eyebrows of some people in the community. I think they believe, as I did before, that property tax rates must stay the same until the public votes to change it. It’s a little more complicated than this; while the public does vote on tax rate increases, we are really voting on a “ceiling,” or maximum rate. The key words in the resolution the School Board passed are “not in excess of the prior year’s maximum rate,” meaning it is still within the range of what voters have already approved.
This process of raising tax rates is supervised and approved by the Louisiana State Legislative Auditor’s Office, according to District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut. The St. John DA’s Office provides legal guidance to help the School Board stay in compliance with the law.
School Board President Nia Mitchell-Williams said the millage increase was necessary to address the district’s budget deficit. According to Mitchell-Williams, the district has increased and/or sustained programming while the student population has steadily decreased over the past several years, and the tax increase was needed to make the district fiscally sound.
Brooke R. Cantrelle is news editor for L’OBSERVATEUR. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.