Rusk County residents will have a chance to vote for the revocation of an 80-year-old county school tax this November, potentially allowing Rusk County taxpayers with students enrolled in Kilgore ISD to pay an equal amount of school taxes as Kilgore ISD residents who live in Gregg County.
Currently, KISD collects one tax rate from Kilgore residents in both Gregg and Rusk counties, but Rusk County taxpayers are subject to an additional school tax set by the countywide school board.
The Rusk Countywide School Equalization Tax was established in 1939 in an effort to ensure equitable school funding in the county. At the time, the East Texas Oil Boom saw some school districts in Rusk County accruing large tax revenues from oil companies in the area while smaller county schools did not receive the same amount of revenue.
Over the years, these smaller county schools were gradually absorbed into independent school districts across Rusk County. The Countywide School Board continued to meet and the tax continued to be assessed and collected, though the county schools it was originally intended to support no longer existed.
For Kilgore ISD residents whose homes are in Rusk County, the tax ultimately means they’re contributing more to the district than their neighbors in Gregg County. The tax also affects taxpayers in other nearby school districts which straddle the Rusk County line, including Garrison, Tatum, Cushing, Laneville and Rusk ISDs.
House Bill 1133 directly addressed this issue earlier this year. It was passed by Texas legislators in May and went into effect immediately after being signed by the governor.
The bill was described as “an act relating to an election to revoke a county equalization tax imposed in certain counties.”
The text of the bill reads “this subchapter applies only to a county with a population of more than 40,000 but less than 55,000; and for which a county equalization tax was adopted under former Chapter 18 of this code, as that chapter existed on May 1, 1995, and continues in effect under Section 11.301.”
House District 11 Rep. Travis Clardy sponsored the bill in the House, calling the tax “a relic of a bygone era.” Sen. Bryan Hughes sponsored a companion bill in the Senate.
The bill also states the commissioners court of an applicable county may order an election on the question of revoking the county school equalization tax.
Rusk County Commissioners Court did just that, and now voters can go to the polls Nov. 2 to cast their ballots for or against the revocation of this countywide school tax. Revoking the tax would mean it would no longer be collected starting the next tax year and the county school board would be dissolved.
Kilgore and Rusk County resident Dale Hedrick led the effort to bring the tax up for a vote for revocation, doing all the legwork himself to research the history of the tax.
As part of his efforts, Hedrick searched through old files in the Rusk County courthouse, met with state representatives and senators, and gave testimony to a school funding committee in Austin on the history of the tax.
“I’ve been trying to get this done for half my life,” Hedrick said. “Not only has this tax penalized Rusk County taxpayers, especially in districts that cross the county line, but (it) has also become nothing less than a subsidy for school districts.”
“Very seldom do taxpayers have an opportunity to revoke a tax,” he said. “Now, we have the opportunity to revoke an archaic tax that is no longer needed and to discontinue a county school board since we have no county schools.”