Bulloch County Board of Education members offered verbal support last week for a proposed half-mill increase in the school system’s tax rate. If approved, the school board portion of the millage rate would rise from 9.45 to 9.95 mills, which equates to about a $20 tax increase per $100,000 of taxable property.
“We reviewed staff furloughs, school programs, overhead … everything,” said Edwin Hill, a school board member. “I take raising taxes very seriously and I am confident I can look every taxpayer in the eye and say this tax increase is best for our students and our schools.”
Charles Wilson, assistant superintendent of Business and Finance, presented the proposal at Thursday’s regular school board meeting, following months of studying ways to make up a budget shortfall. Wilson cited the primary causes of the shortfall as a cutback in state funding, reduced revenue from Esplost sales tax collections and flat or declining property values, at the same time student enrollment is increasing an average of 200 students per year. Bulloch currently has about 9,500 students in the public school system.
“School board members do not take raising taxes lightly,” said Dr. Lewis Holloway, superintendent of Bulloch County Schools. “We have a school budget that is extremely lean and thanks to the quality of our teachers and staff, we’ve be able to continue providing a quality education to our students despite major funding cutbacks.”
Wilson said about 50 percent of the school system's approximately $83-million budget is funded by the state. The rest comes from federal funding, a portion of Bulloch's local sales tax and from part of property taxes paid by residents.
The millage increase will raise $859,000 in additional revenue, Wilson said. Also, the system staff was reduced by 50 over the past two years due to retirements or resignations and those positions will not be replaced. Another 50 positions will be eliminated by attrition that will not be replaced, as well. Finally, all staff will be furloughed for three days.
Even with the millage increase, position cuts and furlough days, the system still must take $431,000 out of its $11.6 million reserve fund to balance the budget.
“As I’ve said before, I believe the board and the administration have been forward thinking in looking at a realistic funding future for our school system,” Wilson said.
In April, Hill listed three options he classified as drastic that the school board would be forced to consider if funding and revenue continued to decline: staff layoffs, program cuts and a millage increase.
“We would be poor managers if we didn’t recognize the need to take action now,” Hill said. “It would be irresponsible of the board to put off taking actions that are tough politically, but needed to best educate our kids. I believe the board is right.
“At 9.95 mills, we are in the bottom 10 percent of school tax rates in Georgia. I hope our residents look at the increase as an added investment in our future. But I know and accept it won’t be popular.”
Wilson said he expects final property digest numbers from the tax assessor’s office by July 5. The first public hearing on the millage increase would be July 15, a second and third would be July 22, and the Board would vote on the increase after the July 22 hearing. The exact times of the hearings will be announced later.