August 27-- Property owners in Lyons, Santa Clause and Toombs County will see an increase in their school property taxes this Fall.
Monday the Toombs County school board issued a statement saying it plans to increase the property taxes it will levy this year by 33.52% over the rollback millage rate.
Because Toombs County has conducted a property tax revaluation, the school board could have rolled back the rate to offset a windfall in revenue caused by an estimated 8.5% increase in the county's tax digest.
However, School Board Chairman Daniel Caraway says the increase of 2.4 mils is needed to offset reductions in state revenue which have depleted the school system's local reserves.
"There was several millions of dollars in fund equity back years ago that we've used up instead of raising taxes. Now we're at a point where there is no money there and we're having to do an increase in the county to cover what the state's not giving us," he said.
According to the school board news release, "Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding has declined from $17,153,745 in fiscal year 2008 to $13,560,992 in fiscal year 2014" despite increased student enrollment.
Further, "The Education Equalization Grant, a major funding source for small, rural school systems has similarly experienced immense decreases from $2,796,997 in fiscal year 2008 to just $1,226,750 in fiscal year 2014."
State law requires school systems to have certain tax rates in future years to qualify for equalization funding. For example, a county's rate must be at least 12 mils by July 1, 2015 and increase to at least 14 mils by July 1, 2019.
The current school tax rate in Toombs County is 11.508 mils and officials hope the increase to 13.956 mils in fiscal year 2014 will help the school system qualify for more state revenue as part of a mid-year adjustment. By that time, Caraway says the board will have final figures on the current tax digest which is still subject to change because of taxpayer appeals.
"The truth is we really don't know to the penny what we'll be getting. We just know we have to cover the payroll for the schools. What we're going to do as a board is reevaluate and look at it again next April and May. We may be able to rollback property taxes then, we just don't know," he said.
Taxpayers who object can have their voices heard at school board public hearings set for Friday, September 6th at eight a.m. and six p.m. and Monday, September 16th at eight a.m. at the school board office in Lyons. The board will vote on the new millage rate following the September 16th hearing.
The text of the Board of Education news release is below.
The Toombs County Board of Education today announces its intention to increase the property taxes it will levy this year by 33.52% over the rollback millage rate.
The Toombs County School System has suffered massive State funding reductions, with State revenues continuing to decline year after year. Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding has declined from $17,153,745 in fiscal year 2008 to $13,560,922 in Fiscal Year 2014 despite FTE student counts continually increasing. Further, the school system has suffered other drastic revenue reductions over the years, such as large reductions to categorical grants, including nursing and student transportation.
In addition, the Education Equalization Grant, a major funding source for small, rural school systems has similarly experienced immense decreases, going from $2,796,997 in Fiscal year 2008 to just $1,226,750 in Fiscal year 2014.
Coupled with the massive reduction of revenues, expenditures have continually increased, with a $350,000 increase in non-certified health insurance costs in Fiscal Year 2014 alone. A similar increase in these same health insurance costs for non-certified staff was experienced last fiscal year, when the employer portion of the health insurance costs increased by $150.00 per covered member per month. Other expenses, such as rising diesel fuel costs and the cost of instructional technology mount to unprecedented levels.
Despite the rise in expenses and the decreases in funding, the school system has had no increased millage to help soften the blows in the past 7 years, and a study of School M&O millage rates Statewide shows that Toombs County has one of the lowest millage rates in the entire State, with only 5 other school districts with a lower M&O millage rate.
The school system has eliminated 47 positions through attrition, managed to do more with less, and efficiently utilized its fund equity; however, with fund equity becoming much lower, the District must increase millage, as it has exhausted all other options in order to continue providing a quality education to its students and to continue to operate safe, clean school environments.
When the total digest of taxable property is prepared, Georgia law requires that a rollback millage rate must be computed that will produce the same total revenue on the current year’s digest that last year’s millage rate would have produced had no reassessments occurred.
The budget tentatively adopted by the Toombs County Board of Education requires that a millage rate higher than the rollback millage rate, therefore, before the Toombs County Board of Education may finalize the tentative budget and set a final millage rate, Georgia law requires three public hearings to be held to allow the public an opportunity to express their opinions on the increase.
All concerned citizens are invited to the public hearings on this tax increase to be held at the Toombs County Board of Education Central Office, 117 E. Wesley Avenue, Lyons, Georgia on September 6, 2013 at 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. and on September 16, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.