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PGP tax settlement hits schools hard

Officials of the Lamar County school system are reporting an estimated loss of $426,570 in local tax revenue this year due to the county’s settlement of a civil suit by Piedmont Green Power. The system also loses $428,904 in equalization funds from the state because of the size of the 2013 county tax digest, and another $724,480 in state ‘austerity cuts,’ according to finance director Brian Stephens and superintendent Dr. Jute Wilson’s presentations at last week’s board of education meeting. ’We already run a lean budget,’ said Wilson. ‘If our revenues are going to be less than expected, we have to find ways to make the budget work without damage to our students and teachers, or dip into our fund balance, which is being depleted rapidly.’ Wilson told the board that the budget was prepared anticipating $7,674,654 in local tax revenue, but now that total will be closer to $7,248,084. Both the system and the county will be refunding taxes, in the form of reduction of taxable values, paid by PGP in 2013 and 2014; the board total payback for the two years was reported at $86,540. Industrial Development Authority director Missy Kendrick said the presence of Piedmont Green Power has a ‘net positive impact’ because even with the settlement, the schools can expect to receive as much as $1 million per year from PGP. ’Piedmont Green Power is the biggest taxpayer in Lamar County,’ Kendrick said. ‘We need them here.’ PGP plant manager Tim Schimke said authorities at parent company Atlantic Power asked that any comments about the effect of the settlement be deferred to Lamar tax authorities. Figures from the tax commissioner’s office show that the 2014 Fair Market Value for PGP (part of the appeal settlement) was $114,708,100, and the company was billed $1,337,940, which has been paid. Credits of $70,927 from the county and school board reduced the amount to $1,267,012.47 — but all these figures will likely be revised once the state determines whether to accept the revised tax digest. The 2013 figures were stipulated in the settlement. Of the 2014 pre-revision amounts, the state received $4,513.90 of the taxes paid; the county, $479,245.76; the school board M&O, $763,000.10, and school bonds, $91,180.70. For 2015, PGP paid taxes of $1,240,812.13, distributed as follows: the state, $2,140.62; county, $498,746.51; schools M&O, $724,204.89; school bonds, $86,648.11. Dr. Wilson’s later comments: ‘The equalization funds for those years (and this year) have already been calculated and distributed; a revision would not help us at this point. We did receive taxes those years. The arrangement is to refund PGP in the current and future tax cycles. This will impact our equalization in the future, but does not help us this fiscal year. Equalization funding lags two years; we did not receive funding this year (2015-16) based on the 2013 tax digest. Now we are having to give back tax money that disqualified us for state money. Our school system was financially hit twice. I understand and agree with the long-term value of the taxes generated by PGP, but the fact remains the recent settlement is devastating to this year’s budget. We are not casting blame over this issue, just simply stating the facts and clarifying the impact on our school system.’

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