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Error Upsets District 4 Funding

Saturday, May 27, 2000 By CATHERINE LAWRENCE Of The Post and Courier staff

ST. GEORGE - A mistake in a Dorchester County revenue report caused problems recently for Dorchester School District 4 officials and the state departments of Revenue and Education.

The report filed from the county auditor's office to the state Revenue Department contained an error in the amount of assessed value of local industries. The error made Dorchester 4's tax base look inflated.

"The state got the idea that they didn't need as much state support," County Auditor Johnette Connelley said.

Based on the bungled report, the state Revenue Department believed the school district's ability to pay taxes rose by 18 percent.

When school district finance officer Marty Connelly got word that state support would shrink by 5 percent next year - from 71 percent this year to 66 percent - he was shocked.

Looking back, he said he should have known there was a mistake. Even in high-growth Beaufort County, the index of tax-paying ability rose by just 13 percent.

Auditor Connelley said the error was easy to make. The wrong dollar value was included as part of a massive report to the state office. The county auditor's office is also in the midst of moving to a new computer system.

"This is a very, very important report, and there are errors throughout the state," she said. "Thank God it is fixed."

Connelley said she plans to install measures to make sure the mistake does not happen again.

Now the state Revenue Department must alter the scale, which determines how much state money each of the 86 school districts get. Small changes may be made to several districts to make up for Dorchester 4's profit.

The trick is that the state Legislature must pass a bill giving the Revenue Department permission to reopen and change the report, according to the agency's spokesman, Danny Brazell. Once the report is finished, it is closed by law.

Rep. George Bailey, D-St. George, and Sen. Annette Young-Brickell, R-Summerville, have started that process, the school district said.

Once the error was identified by officials at the Revenue Department, Dorchester 4's amount of state support rose to 74 percent. That means local schools will get about $400,000 more in state money next year.

It is a small amount in terms of the state's total $2.3 billion education budget, but it means big gains for rural Dorchester 4. The school district's budget last year was $12.9 million.

"Because Dorchester 4 is a relatively small district in the whole scheme of things, it won't have a dramatic effect on the other districts," said state Education Department spokesman Jim Foster. "If (the Revenue Department) had to change the formula, it would ripple through the system, but it would be a small ripple."


-- (, May 28, 2000

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