From today’s Sentinel:

BOE proposing millage rate hike
by Winston Jones/Staff Writer
 
Douglas County property owners can expect their tax bills to increase by at least $69 this year since the Board of Education (BOE) is proposing a 1.634 millage hike on its bond tax to meet required payoff of school bonds.

The bond millage rate would rise from 1.366 mills to 3.0 mills, under the proposal.

However, after much debate, the BOE decided in a called 8 p.m. Tuesday meeting to hold its maintenance and operation (M&O) tax rate at the current 18.350 mills, even though it will mean a tax revenue loss.

The combined school millage rate will be 21.35 mills.

Public hearings on the proposed rates have been set for Monday, July 20 at 7:30 a.m. and later at that day’s regular 7 p.m. BOE meeting. A final hearing will be held at a 6:30 p.m., Monday, June 27, (Editor’s Note–July, NOT June) called meeting, after which a vote will be taken. All meetings will be held in the board room at the central administration office, 9030 Highway 5, Douglasville.

The tax millage rate is levied against the tax digest, which is the overall value of county properties. The digest has fallen nearly 2 percent in value this year due to bad economic conditions and a rising number of foreclosures, so millage rates must be increased to make up the loss. (Editor’s Note: Is this the writer’s opinion?  Or is this what the BOE told him?)

The estimated $69 increase is based on a home valued at $100,000 with a homestead exemption, said Kay Turner, financial officer for the school system. The total tax increases could go higher since Douglas County and the individual cities still have to determine what their millage rates will be.

The total tax bill is a sum of levies by the city, county, state and local school system.

“We have no choice on the bond millage rate,” said Ken Bernard, BOE attorney. “It has to be very close to what is needed to service the debt.”

The bond millage increase is necessary to counter the lower tax digest.

On the M&O tax millage rate, the BOE debate came down to two choices:

• raise the millage rate from 18.350 to 18.575, the rollback rate (rate which will bring in the same revenue as last year, actually a “roll up” this year);

• or keep the rate at 18.350 and take a loss of about $1 million in revenues.

School Superintendent Don Remillard recommended the higher rollback rate. He said with the uncertainty of the economy and likelihood that the state will make additional cuts in funding, the lower rate will mean having to dip further into the system’s reserves.

“The economic recovery may take three to four years and we have to make the reserves last,” Remillard said. “I’d feel safer with the rollback rate. Our auditors recommend we keep the reserves at about 10 percent. I want to be sure our teachers and students get what they need.”

Turner said the system has already made so many cuts that “there’s no place left to cut.”

She said if fuel costs rise or electricity and gas rates go up, it will mean a deeper dip into the reserves.

She warned that if the economy continues to stay bad, it could mean even deeper cuts next year.

“We may be looking at cuts across the board, including personnel,” she said.

Board member Sam Haskell initially expressed agreement with Remillard.

“If we continue to draw off the reserves, we’re taking a gamble that the economy will recover quickly,” he said. “I think that’s a risky gamble to take.”

Board Chairman Jimmy Bartlett said he also supported Remillard’s suggestion.

“If things turn for the worst, it’s better to have reserves,” Bartlett said.

Board member Larry Barnes, however, called for “holding the line” at the current millage rate.

First-term board members Mike Miller and Jeff Morris seemed more on the fence. Miller called it a “tough choice,” but said he was inclined to “stay where we’re at.” Morris said he was “very torn” on the decision.

In the end, the board chose to take the riskier path of keeping the millage rate where it is at 18.350. Ironically, it was Haskell who made the motion to keep the current lower rate and the board unanimously approved.
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Meanwhile, in Villa Rica, they have decided NOT to raise the millage rate.  In an article in the Villa Rican:

“It is my understanding in the past it has been the desire of the mayor and council not to pass on any additional tax burden to the taxpayers,” City Accountant Shari Smith said.

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