Moultrie Observer

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May 28, 2014

School tax hike likely

A 2-mill increase is proposed; no hike since 1996

MOULTRIE — After deciding last year to forego a tax increase, the Colquitt County School Board likely will take that step this year.

School administration announced on Wednesday a recommendation to boost the education tax millage for taxpayers by 2 mills.

This tax hike, which would amount to an additional $80 per $100,000 of taxable property such as houses and land, would show up on tax bills that are scheduled to be mailed to taxpayers in September. Those taxes, which also include Colquitt County Commission and city taxes for those who live in municipalities, are due by Dec. 10.

A mill of education taxes brought in about $783,463 to school coffers in 2013, Tax Commissioner Cindy Harvin said.

The school board nearly voted on a tax increase last year, but held off because of an earlier promise that it would not. At the time, board members were told that two years of using reserves to balance the budget would see that fund drop from $5.71 million to $1.9 million at the end of the next fiscal year in mid 2015.

 In the current budget, the county was responsible for about $10 million in local funding for a $67.8 million budget, with the balance coming from state and federal sources.

Even with a tax increase, some reserves will be used next year.

“Although a two mill increase will not completely keep us from using our reserves, we are hopeful that through diligent examination and further cuts in non-instructional areas that we may achieve the balanced budget that taxpayers deserve,” Schools Superintendent Samuel DePaul said.

He also said that the board has not increased the tax millage rate since 1996.

The school system pointed to declining money from multiple sources, including state and special local option sales tax funds that have declined with the last economic recession.

Colquitt County Schools are among a handful of counties in the state that have a sales tax devoted to funding education system operations.

Annual sales tax revenue has decreased from $5.8 million in the fiscal year 2010-2011 budget to $5.1 million this year, the system said. The reserve fund balance has dropped from $9.2 million in 2009-2010 to a projected $4.1 million due to spending that money to balance budgets during those five years, and health care costs have gone from $5.5 million per year to 10.1 million over the same time span. During that time state equalization funds -- state money initially targeted to flow to systems in less affluent rural districts  -- has decreased from 12.4 million to $7.8 million during that time.

The system also is seeking to reduce furlough days from four to three and restore the full 180-day school year from 179 days this year

This year’s state budget increases Colquitt County’s share of state money based on the number of students by almost $2 million, but cuts the amount of equalization funds by about $1 million.

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