Pascagoula school system plans to fight for revenue

Published 6:46 pm Friday, June 22, 2007

The Pascagoula School District is being robbed of revenue because of last-minute changes to a bill during the 2007 legislative session, local education leaders say.

One of the beneficiaries of the change will be the Moss Point School District, and, one of the lawmakers who led final negotiations when the change was made was Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point.

Pascagoula schools Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich said the district is considering what legal steps it can take to avoid losing money this fall.

The bill originally was designed to amend property tax laws to define exemptions for trailers. According to legislative records, it was amended during final negotiations to say property taxes from proposed liquefied natural gas terminals and improvements or expansions at crude oil refineries would be shared by all school districts in a county, not solely by the district where the industry is located.

The changes were made by a conference committee of three House members and three senators. Conferees try to negotiate differences, large or small, to produce final drafts of bills.

Then, the entire 122-member House and 52-member Senate must approve the final version of each bill before it can be sent to the governor.

The LNG and oil refinery provision, according to legislative records, was in neither the Senate version nor the House version when the bill went to the conference committee. Leaders of the conference committee were Robertson and House Ways and Means Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg.

The Chevron oil refinery is located in Pascagoula is a proposed site for an LNG terminal. Under the law, signed by Gov. Haley Barbour in April, property taxes collected on the facilities would be shared by the Pascagoula, Jackson County, Moss Point and Ocean Springs school systems.

Rodolfich said the local community should have been informed of the possible impact to the city’s schools and should have been allowed to discuss the issues, instead of the legislation being proposed in the final days of the three-month session.

“We intend to pursue what our legal rights are in this,” Rodolfich said in a www.gulfive.com article.

Rodolfich said that under the law, Pascagoula’s share of those taxes is expected to drop to 28 percent. The distribution formula is based on school attendance.

The bill is Senate Bill 2403.