BOE recommends property tax increase

Published 5:41 pm Friday, May 18, 2012

Proposed budget would increase millage rate to 15.99 mills

The Decatur County Board of Education has approved a budget for the 2012-2013 school year that includes a three-mill increase in property taxes. The increase would set the millage rate to fund the school system at 15.99 mills, with .47 mills of that total allocated to the Gilbert H. Gragg Regional Library.

The approval of the millage rate increase and adoption of the budget passed with a 4-1 vote. Board member Jacky Grubbs cast the lone “no” vote and board member Clarissa Kendrick was absent.

Email newsletter signup

Board chairman Dr. Sydney Cochran said that while the decision to increase the property tax rate was difficult, it was necessary.

“A lot of work has gone into this budget, a lot of soul searching by this board trying to make the right decision,” Cochran said. “Nobody wants to raise taxes. This is not the type of thing that you get excited about, but we felt this is the best for our school system and the students within it.”

Grubbs agreed with a tax adjustment, but felt that the amount of the increase was not necessary.

“I knew we would have to raise taxes, but I simply feel that 3 mills is in excess,” Grubbs said. “I thought we could have made do with 2 mills, especially when we are in a county with 16-percent unemployment.”

Before the upward adjustment, Decatur County had the lowest school millage rate in 14-system southwest Georgia region. Now, the county is slightly above the regional average of 15.38 mills.

The impact of the property tax increase to a homeowner in the county, with a $100,000 fair market value home, would be $114 per year, or $9.50 per month.

The approved budget calls for total general fund revenues of $36.44 million and general fund expenses of $36.23 million.

The revenues would consist of $12.97 million from local property taxes, and $23.39 million from state funding.  The state funding total is after $4.12 million in austerity cuts. The system, via the Quality Basic Education formula, was due $27.88 million based on enrollment, teacher quality and teacher quantity. However, the 16-percent reduction from the state reduced that number by $4.12 million.

Of the $36.23 million in expenses, $31.67 million is spent on salary and benefits and $4.59 million is spent on operating costs.

Additionally, the system, in an effort to balance the budget, will keep vacant 24 staff positions that became open via retirements. Of that total, 18 of those positions are certified teaching positions, while the other six positions are support, non-certified positions. The total amount saved by keeping those positions vacant is $1.52 million.

Over the past four years, the system has eliminated or absorbed 101 full-time positions, or 11.5 percent of the total workforce.

“We’re down over 100 folks and you cannot reduce a workforce by that amount and expect the exact same things to happen,” explained Dr. Fred Rayfield, school superintendent. “One really bad implication with that type of downsizing in that our classroom size is going up. That is something that we don’t like to see, nor do parents like to see.”

Additional factors that led to the financial crunch include a increase of $479,615 in non-certified employee health insurance costs, $296,610 in teacher retirement increases, and $252,636 in state mandated teacher salary step increases.

One factor that did not attribute to the dire financial situation was the construction of Bainbridge High School, Rayfield said.

“The presentation that I just gave (to the board) on our financial condition is not affected in any form or fashion by that new high school … none,” Rayfield said. “We are talking about two buckets of money — the debt service on the high school is paid for by E-SPLOST funds and the general fund is separate. That facility and paying for that facility is not taking money out of the general fund.”

After a series of public hearings related to the tax increase, the system must submit a finalized budget to the state by June 30.