RIPLEY • The North Tippah School District will now get a larger portion of funds from federal money paid to the county in lieu of property taxes for land within the Holly Springs National forest.
The county funds a majority of its operations by ad valorem taxes that include levies on personal property (cars and businesses) as well as land. "The idea is that the in lieu payments make up the lost taxes that the county would have received if the property had been privately owned," said Board Attorney Sean Akins.
According to Akins, in the 1950s, the federal government passed a law that required the states to come up with a way to distribute the funds to the counties where national forest land is located. Mississippi's version requires that one half of the payments be paid for public schools. The remaining portion is to be spent, in the discretion of the Board of Supervisors, for roads or schools in the school district where the national forest land is located.
North Tippah School Superintendent Bill Brand asked the Board of Supervisors on Friday Aug. 2 to consider giving all of the 50 percent of the funds that benefit the schools to North Tippah. Brand argued that because all of the national forest land is located in the North Tippah School District, North Tippah would be the district missing out on the ad valorem taxes.
"Since all the national forest is in the North Tippah School District, our district should benefit from all of the funds," said Brand.
Akins stated in the meeting that he believed the Board was required by law to split the first half of the money between the two school districts based on the language of the statute and the Board of Supervisors agreed to ask the Attorney General for an opinion on the statute.
"Before the Board wrote the Attorney General for its own official opinion, North Tippah brought a previous opinion to the Board’s attention," said Akins. "In that opinion, the Attorney General said that the portion of the funds that are required to go to 'public schools' means the district where the National Forest is located. As we discussed in the meeting, the Board does not have discretion to decide who gets the funds dedicated to public schools. However, the AG’s opinion was conclusive that North Tippah gets the funds. Therefore, the County will follow the AG's interpretation of the law."
"We are very pleased that an AG's opinion was found that supported what we believed to be the intent of the law as well," Brand stated Tuesday, Aug. 13. "The district has missed out on around 300K of federal funds that were required by law to be given to the district. This number does not included the other 50 percent that was also required to be spent on our district as well. We may need to contact the state auditors office to see what the best course of action would be for recovery of the federal dollars. This will be a board decision, however they have already expressed the intent to recover the full amount owed."
The in lieu payments the county receives are roughly $25,000 a year. According to the statue, $12,500 is to be given to the schools. North Tippah will now get all of the $12,500. The other $12,500 is kept by the supervisors to use on the upkeep of roads and school bus turnarounds.