KILGORE — A longstanding Rusk County tax may be challenged if a Kilgore candidate is elected to the Rusk County Countywide School Board.
Dale Hedrick of Kilgore is running for the at-large seat on the Rusk County Countywide School Board. His opponent is Dwain Knight of Henderson.
“I’ve spent several years researching this tax and educating the taxpayers of Rusk County on how this tax has become a subsidy to school districts around our county,” Hedrick said in a statement. “For those school districts that cross into neighboring counties, this extra tax has become a penalty to Rusk County. My goal and pledge ... is to work for the elimination of this subsidy tax that is both misunderstood and outdated.”
Knight, who is employed at Crawford–A. Crim Funeral Home in Henderson, said he is running because he has an interest in educaiton.
“I’ve taught school for 27 years, and I’m a product of public school, so I’m very much interested in the success of the students of Rusk County and students in general,” he said. “As a consequence, I wanted to give back, and I wanted to help in any way that I could to ensure success in schools in the area.
“I’m sure there’s several good candidates that are running,” Knight said. “I’ve met Mr. Hedrick, I’ve sat in the room with him and I’m aware of the other gentleman that may or may not be interested in the board. I would say that my time here, my participation in the education business and a desire to do what’s right for the people of Rusk County, that’s the qualification that I have.”
Also on the ballot for the Rusk County Countywide School Board is Phil Patterson of Kilgore, who is unopposed for the Pct. 1 seat.
The equalization tax was the main topic at a meeting of the board in August 2019, which revealed some of the underlying discord surrounding the decades-old tax.
The tax — about $26.50 per year on a home valued at $100,000 — helps fuel school budgets at 13 districts operating in the county. At the same time, a growing group of taxpayers is questioning a tax that, in some cases, sees residents paying twice into the same public coffers.
The meeting included a series of 4-1 votes as Trustee John Carter dissented, unsatisfied with answers to a list of questions he prepared for the day.
Carter, a Kilgore resident, asked for “refined” average daily attendance numbers reported by the 13 Rusk County school districts that receive a portion of the tax and questioned how funding is being used.
“It should be earmarked money to begin with, not going into the general fund,” Carter said.
“That’s not our responsibility,” Trustee Worth Whitehead said in response. Whitehead was the holder of the at-large seat that Knight and Hedrick are seeking.
“Yes sir, it is,” Carter insisted, “because that comes back on you.”
Trustee Tommy Freeman countered, “It’s on them.”
For Whitehead, “Our responsibility is to get the money to the schools that need it.”
Based on reported average daily attendance numbers of students who reside in Rusk County and attended schools there in 2017-2018, Kilgore ISD was to receive $141,468 of $967,532 in on-hand collections as of July 1, 2019. Henderson ISD was to receive $354,848 from the countywide school equalization tax.
Other districts on the school board’s distribution schedule ranged from Cushing ISD ($3,210) to $135,733 for Tatum ISD, based on reported ADA.
The trustees’ budget left $2,000 in the account for operations of the Rusk County School Board, per standard operating procedure. Notably, the 2019-20 budget for the school board included an additional administrative expense of $12,639 for “compressor lawsuit,” a similar loss to other taxing entities across the state following a 2018 ruling by the Texas Supreme Court that changed the way the state taxes natural gas compressors.
The 2019-20 budget was otherwise unchanged and was approved with a 4-1 vote.