If Bryan County residents’ overall tax bills go up this year, it doesn’t look like it will be because of schools.
The Board of Education has tentatively said it will roll back taxes again this year – for the seventh year in a row. The discussion came Monday during a called meeting and will be voted on at the next regular meeting.
District Financial Advisor Melanie James said each year, starting in 1999, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights required the board to figure a roll back rate, "which is what taxes would generate without any reassessments, only counting new properties added and eliminating all reassessments," she said.
This year, the rollback rate is 13.357 – a decrease of .035 of one mill. Last year’s rate was 13.572.
"With the roll back, we should still generate a little bit more than $50,000 more than we have budgeted," she said.
But the news isn’t all good.
The district’s estimated revenue shortfalls include two areas: one, Governor Sonny Perdue has announced a two percent cut to K-12 funding this year, which is a $609,000 loss for Bryan County and two, the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant is reportedly being deferred. This year, the district is supposed to receive $629,000 from the grant but the "money is iffy," James said.
The worst case scenario could be that the district is looking at absorbing a loss of about $1.2 million this year, she said.
"This year (in budget discussions), we talked about how we’d really cut it down to bare bones in operations – we cut this very close, as close as we could," James said. "There’s no option of going back and cutting down those areas."
There was discussion of the $2.5 million allotted for district capital projects being used. This is the only area of the 08-09 budget where the board has any leeway, James said.
"If we do a roll back, we will have to get into this capital projects money," Brewer said, noting the district will make the budget work, whichever way the board officially votes on the millage rate.
Board Chairman Eddie Warren said, eventually, the district won’t be able to put as much funding into the capital projects plan but board member Joe Pecenka said he feels transferring money into the capital projects budget is "very important" to local residents.
"They’re very keen on us building new schools and improving our facilities. It’s important to the public and it’s important to me," he said, noting if raising taxes this year was the only way to avoid doing that, it needed to be considered.
Brewer noted despite austerity cuts and tax roll backs, while surrounding school districts have cut programs, the local BoE has continued to fund those things for students and faculty.
"We haven’t cut back for anyone. We have continued to do things for students and faculty that our community expects," she said. "We talked about this year being the last year we could roll back money…If we don’t raise it, there’s only one way we can go after that."
Warren said, dollar wise, the district will "be okay" this year.
"And next year we might have to bump up the millage rate," he said. "But the community has to understand, eventually, we’re going to have to wind up bumping it up a little bit to continue offering our programs with the state continuing to cut back."
Pecenka asked James how much the millage rate would have to be increased to recoup the potential $1.2 loss and James estimated it would take an increase of about one mill, which would equal about $1.4 million additional revenue.
Pecenka, Billy Mock, Jeff Morton, Judy Crosby and Frances Meeks all noted it’s "better to be on the side of rolling back taxes," especially with the current status of the economy.
Board member Mary Warnell was out of town and absent from the meeting.
Morton made the motion to do the roll back and the board unanimously agreed.
The official vote will happen Thursday, Aug. 28.