Beaufort County Council nixed the school board's request for a property-tax hike Monday.
Board of Education Chairman Fred Washington Jr. argued for the 3 percent tax increase at the council's meeting, describing schools as an investment that would reduce health care, welfare and law-enforcement costs.
"If we don't educate children the first time around, you don't get a second chance," Washington said.
Council Chairman Weston Newton moved to amend the county's budget draft to state that taxes will not be raised.
"As much as I hate to say it, I second it," said Councilwoman Laura Von Harten. "I've just heard loud and clear from people that they just can't endure increases this year, and we're going to have to make tough choices. I'm really sorry about that."
The amendment to not raise taxes was approved with six yes votes. Councilmen Gerald Dawson, Rick Caporale, Herbert Glaze and Stu Rodman dissented, and Councilman Bill McBride abstained from voting.
School district leaders said May 5 when they presented the budget proposal to the county that the tax increase was needed to sustain academic progress in public schools. The budget includes about $5 million in cuts to offset rising costs, but the school board says it still needs to raise taxes by 3 percent on nonresident homes and commercial and personal property. State law exempts resident homeowners from property taxes to fund school operations.
During Monday's meeting, council members and school officials shifted some of the blame for the budget woes to the state legislature.
They urged state tax reform and changes to Act 388, which exempts owner-occupied homes from property taxes for school operations.
"That's where the biggest problem for Beaufort County lies, is with the state and the unfunded mandates that come along and the inequities in education funding," Newton said. "That is the root of our problem."