School district comes up $600K short in 2009 fiscal year

GULFPORT

The Long Beach School District was short about $600,000 during the 2009 fiscal year, but there were no mistakes made in property appraisals or tax collections, an auditor told officials Wednesday.

The school district also figured its budget correctly, said Wib Wright of Wright CPA Group in Hattiesburg.

The problem was a lack of communication about the original figure on property values in the city versus the adjusted figure, Wright said.

Harrison County at first showed the city had $119 million of assessed property, but because of adjustments made throughout the year, that number was closer to $112 million, meaning the district received about $400,000 less than expected in tax collections. The district also reported the $119 million in assessed valuation to the state Department of Education. The more tax money a district receives locally, the less it gets from the state. Because the actual figure was lower, the district should have gotten about $207,000 more in state funds.

Superintendent Carrolyn Hamilton said she filed an official request for the money and is waiting for the Legislature’s approval. She said the district absorbed the $400,000 through attrition, retirements and cutting costs.

The Board of Supervisors hired Wright earlier this year to find the discrepancy, and he told city, county and school officials that the difference between the original figures on property values and adjusted numbers happened after Hurricane Katrina. The downturn in the economy has made the situation worse.

“It was never a problem for school districts as long as the assessed valuation kept going up,” he said. “When property values keep going up, the changes are minimal and aren’t noticed.”

Tax Assessor Tal Flurry said he could provide updated figures to the district during the year to avoid the problem in the future.

By MELISSA M. SCALLAN – mmscallan@sunherald.com

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