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Court rules schools do not have to share Chevron tax payments

PASCAGOULA — A 2007 state law is unconstitutional in requiring the Pascagoula School District to share some tax dollars generated from Chevron facilities with other districts, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The ruling overturned a decision by a Jackson County judge who upheld the law. The Supreme Court had heard the Pascagoula School District’s appeal last June.

The law required property taxes generated from expansions at Chevron’s Pascagoula refinery and liquefied natural gas facilities in Pascagoula to be shared among the Pascagoula, Moss Point, Ocean Springs and Jackson County districts.

Under the law, Pascagoula receives 29 percent of tax dollars. The other districts split the remaining 71 percent, based on their enrollment.

Justice Ann Lamar, writing for the court’s majority, said the Mississippi Constitution “clearly states that a school district may tax to fund ‘its schools,’ leaving no room for an interpretation allowing the Legislature to mandate that the funds be distributed elsewhere.”

Pascagoula schools superintendent Wayne Vincent Rodolfich said the school district felt it was important to challenge the law because it was the right thing to do.

“It is real important to us that we take care of the children of this community,” Rodolfich said.

Jackson County Board of Supervisors President John McKay told the Mississippi Press, ‘I don’t agree with it, I think it’s wrong, and I think it’s cheating every taxpayer in Jackson County — but that’s the way it is.”

The other school districts had argued that the state can enact a law allocating public revenues.

Justice Michael Randolph, joined by two other justices, said the issue of constitutionality should be argued thoroughly in the chancery court and then it could be decided by the Supreme Court. Randolph said the constitutional issue was raised only on appeal.

However, Lamar said the constitutional issue was raised by the school district in its motion in chancery court that the taxes be collected but not distributed until a final ruling. She said it was a legal question that should be decided.

Chevron, the area’s largest taxpayer, presented its largest-ever check to the county last year, $35.6 million, with $16.6 million going to the Pascagoula School District.

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