The Bulloch County Board of Education is rolling back its millage rate 1 percent to avoid what would have to be announced as an increase in property taxes. Even so, total revenue and local revenue to the schools still will increase compared to last year’s.
Under a 1999 law called the Georgia Taxpayers Bill of Rights, local governments must announce a tax increase and hold three public hearings if millage rates remain the same but property revaluations result in increased revenue.
On more than 99 percent of Bulloch County property, little or no increase from revaluations was seen this year, said Troy Brown, the chief financial officer for the Bulloch County Schools. However, the Bulloch County Board of Tax Assessors office did assign higher values for about 500 “income producing” properties, such as businesses, Brown told the school board at its meeting Thursday evening.
“The tax notices that you got and all the other citizens received were based on what our original millage rate was and does not have anything to do with this rollback we’re talking about now,” Brown said.
He advised the board that a rollback would reduce school funds by about $175,000 from what otherwise might be expected but would eliminate the need for hearings. The county and city governments will face similar decisions, Brown said, and the situation is not unique to Bulloch County.
“A lot of other counties are experiencing this right now, something that we have not seen for several years,” he said.
Another rollback situation is expected for next year, Brown added.
Chief Appraiser John Scott in the tax assessors’ office was not available Friday for independent confirmation of the revaluation facts.
What it means
The school millage has been 9.95 mills, or $9.95 on each $1,000 worth of assessed value, for four consecutive years. With most real estate assessed at 40 percent of market value, this amounted to $398 tax on the value of a $100,000 home, for example.
By voting Thursday to propose a millage rate of 9.848 mills, the Board of Education is calling for a 0.102-mill rollback, reducing the potential tax on the example home by $4.08.
The rollback applies to all property, but the increases from reassessments reportedly affect only properties of a certain kind. So, property owners whose assessments increased significantly still may pay more school tax than last year, while those whose values remain unchanged would pay a little less.
Yet to be seen is whether the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners also adopts a rollback. The county government depends on local taxes for a larger portion of its revenue than the schools, which receive more than half of their operating cash from the state and also get federal money for certain programs.
This, and the fact that the Bulloch County Schools started the new fiscal year July 1 with an expected $18 million balance, gives the school board more leeway than the county commissioners or city councils.
“We have the reserves to handle the cash flow variance that’s happening to us, so we can hold steady,” Superintendent Charles Wilson said. “We’re not having to react to this situation in relation to programs and other things.”
The rollback decision follows recent discussions of pay increases for school system employees. Last month, board members informally agreed to have the staff do a study of wages and salaries in relation to other local employers and nearby school districts.
Board members also have discussed repeatedly a need to improve classroom resources, such as books and electronic texts.
But Wilson recommended that the board make this year’s rollback and address any increased revenue needs strategically in the future. Otherwise, he said, for a $175,000 gain now, they would begin to face “death by a thousand cuts” with repeated conversations that people inevitably would hear “about raising taxes.”
“I say we hold steady, continue through over the course of this next year, see what’s facing us in terms of the cost associated with things that we’ve strategically said we want to do, and we address that one time, head-on,” Wilson said.
The proposed rate of 9.848 mills is being advertised for final adoption Aug. 14.
The board passed the proposed rate 7-1. Mike Sparks made the motion, Mike Herndon seconded, and Anshul Jain cast the “no” vote.
After the meeting, Jain, who had been first to voice concerns about shortages of books and other materials, confirmed the connection to her vote on the millage.
“If we don’t have enough resources, then why should we reduce the revenues?” she said.
In separate actions Thursday directed to some of these concerns, the board approved purchases of $370,774 worth of math workbooks and textbooks for kindergarten through 11th grade and $39,790 worth of phonics and spelling materials for kindergarten and first grade.
Revenue still up
The $175,000 lost to the rollback and a decrease of about $100,000 from the final tax digest being smaller than originally projected amount to a $275,000 reduction in revenue from what Brown originally used in calculating the budget.
But with the rollback, property tax revenue still is projected to increase by $450,082, or 2.66 percent, over that of 2013, mainly because of real growth, such as new construction, which is not counted in the rollback requirement. Only “inflationary growth” counts.
The school system, with a $74.6 million general fund budget, also is projected to receive $4.8 million more in state funding in the new fiscal year than last year.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.