BOE OKs increased, “roll back” rate
School board says it won’t be collecting any more revenue, is concerned about tapping reserves
By Kathryn Schiliro
The Morgan County Board of Education (BOE) voted unanimously Thursday night to approve its millage rate, as advertised, of 17.701 mills.
While this is an increase from last year's 15.545 millage rate, the BOE won't be collecting any more in tax revenues. The advertised budget for 2011 was $12.142 million, and that remains the same for 2012.
"We will not increase the amount of revenue we raise," Superintendent Dr. Ralph Bennett told the BOE.
So, why won't the BOE be collecting more money if the millage rate increases? And why isn't this considered a tax increase? The answer here is two-fold. First, the 2011 millage rate should've been 17.797; however, due to the Citizen's 2010 discovery of more than $1.76 million in ELOST (Education Local Option Sales Tax) II overcollections – which had to be given back to county taxpayers in the form of a property tax refund, i.e. millage rate reduction – last year's millage rate fell to 15.545. This year though, there's no ELOST overcollection-generated refund.
Secondly, the county's property tax digest fell, which means the value of a mil decreased from last year to this year. The value of a mil to the BOE in 2011 was $781,070; this year's value is $685,975. That's a more than $95,000 decrease.
So, while the BOE is going to an increased millage rate – 17.701 vs. last year's 15.545 – last year's millage rate without the one-time boost from the ELOST II overcollection would've been 17.797.
The BOE is operating from the view that last year's millage rate should've been 17.797. So this year's 17.701 is being considered a "roll back."
"It's not a tax increase; it's a roll back... It might be true that some will (see a tax increase), but we're not raising taxes," BOE member Keith Howard said, commenting on the fact that the BOE isn't aiming to collect more revenue this year and that property taxes are affected by the tax digest and factors outside the BOE's purview, like the amount of land in Morgan County under Conservation Use, which is "assessed at 40 percent of current use value," according to the state Department of Revenue's website (etax.dor.ga.gov).
As for next year, the BOE is concerned about continued use of reserves.
"We've been tapping that for about five years and we're about out of that," BOE Chairman Nelson Hale said.
And the BOE will have to plan for another state-mandated hike in the cost of insurance benefits as well as the cost of teacher step increases, or salary increases based on years of experience.
This year alone the board had to account for $750,000 in state-mandated costs for benefits.
"There's a possibility of us having to cut programs [next year]," Bennett said.
Printed in the August 2, 2012 edition.