The Bulloch County Board of Education on Thursday evening confirmed its 1 percent rollback of its property tax millage rate by a 6-1 vote.
The rollback from 9.95 to 9.848 mills amounts to a $4 tax reduction on a $100,000 home. Rolling back by this small amount allows the board to avoid holding three tax increase hearings. The Georgia Taxpayer Bill of Rights would have required the hearings if the millage rate were held steady to take advantage of inflationary growth in the total value of taxable property in Bulloch County.
Two different rates
After the school board voted to propose its rollback rate two weeks ago, County Manager Tom Couch announced that he was recommending that the county commissioners not do a rollback, so they began holding the tax increase hearings for the separate millage set by the county government.
Board of Education member Anshul Jain, who cast the sole vote against the school tax rollback two weeks ago and again Thursday, said she heard from constituents after the board and county went opposite ways.
“I got just a very few calls from concerned parents, and not after our board meeting but only after it hit the paper that the county was staying their millage rate …,” Jain said, “meaning that they want to hang onto that revenue, whatever it is, significant or insignificant.”
With the rollback, the school system gives up about $175,000 in potential revenue. Parents wanted to know why the board was foregoing the increase, Jain said, and asked Troy Brown, the school system’s chief financial officer, to explain.
Brown’s financial report of June 30, the end of the 2014 fiscal year, was in board members’ folders. It showed that the school system ended the year in better shape than predicted. Spending still exceeded revenues by $2.29 million, but not by the $3.5 million projected in the budget.
Fiscal 2014 general fund revenues were about $400,000 more than predicted, and the school system started fiscal 2015 with an $18.25 million balance.
“Not trying to diminish $175,000. That’s a lot of money,” Brown replied. “But that $175,000, based upon what we have as our fund balance, the $18.2 million, it was not going to necessitate that we would have to eliminate any programs after we’ve already passed the budget.”
In contrast, Couch asserts that the commissioners need to rebuild their cash reserve and that a rollback, costing about $180,000 in potential revenue this year, could damage the county government’s financial strength in the long run.
At the school board’s previous meeting, Superintendent Charles Wilson urged members to approach major spending decisions strategically and not give the appearance of a tax increase now for the sake of the $175,000. Brown echoed that Thursday.
The board, he noted, recently asked for a salary study to be completed this fall and discussed whether instructional supplies, such as books, are being funded adequately.
“Putting that all together, is it worth it to, I don’t want to say nickel and dime, but to continue to go to the taxpayers?” Brown said. “Although we would not be increasing the millage rate, it still looks like that because you’re having to hold hearings.”
Wilson said he and the board may be looking at the millage rate differently a year from now, when some costs of their strategic initiatives are known.
“I think we’re going to have to make a decision then,” he said. “I have no idea what that looks like, and I think it’s a collective, informed decision, but at least when we have that conversation we will know.”
Board member Cheri Wagner was absent, so only seven votes were cast.
Meanwhile, the county government held the first two of its Taxpayer Bill of Rights hearings Aug. 12. The last hearing is scheduled as part of Bulloch County Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Commissioners are slated to vote on the millage afterward.
Nobody other than officials attended the first two hearings, and taxpayer comments to commissioners have been few and mild, Couch reported Friday.
“I think, fortunately, people maybe view this as kind of a non-event, as we presented it, although there’s one hearing left to go,” he said.
If the commissioners follow through on Couch’s recommendation, they will hold their tax rate at 10.44 mills – where has it has been for at least five years – instead of adopting a rollback rate of 10.334 mills. Taxpayers will still receive the benefit of the school board’s small rollback and most will not see their taxes rise because of the commissioners’ lack of one.
Owners of less than 2 percent of the parcels in Bulloch County, mainly income-producing properties such as business buildings and rentals, will pay significantly more in taxes this year. This is because the Board of Tax Assessors Office focused on this type of property with reassessments that took the buildings’ profitability into account.
Those revaluations resulted in the “inflationary growth” that triggered the rollback situation. Both the county government and school system will also receive some increased revenue from “real growth,” such as new construction.
With real and inflationary growth combined, the county government will receive about 3.71 percent more property tax this year than last, according to its published tax history. However, Couch points out that, after a 5.4 percent decline, the commissioners’ property tax revenue still has not rebounded to the $18.79 million collected in 2009. The 2014 projection is a little less than $18.5 million.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.