More tax money from growth and increased property values won't offset an unbalanced Columbia County Board of Education budget, school officials announced Tuesday.
In a public hearing, Superintendent Tommy Price said the system plans to keep an estimated $600,000 to $700,000 extra in the next fiscal year from the reassessment of property values in the county's tax digest.
The additional revenue the system expects to get by not rolling back the millage rate won't make up a $5 million shortfall in the 2004-05 budget.
Price said officials will compensate for the shortage by dipping into the system's almost $27 million reserve fund.
A 17.18 millage rate levied against county property owners will bring in an estimated $120.9 million. Estimated expenditures top $125 million, according to system budget records.
State budget cuts deprived the Columbia County School System of more than $9 million during the past three years, Price said.
"The state provides for two-thirds of our funding," he said about the public meeting. "Replacing that $9 million falls onto the board of education. We're struggling to make up those lost dollars. We need every dollar we can get."
The board also used its reserve last fiscal year to bail itself out of a an estimated $3.5 million budget shortage, Price Said.
Despite the negative balance, Price maintains that the system is one of the most fiscally responsible in the state.
"We spend far less than most systems in Georgia," he said.
The Columbia County board spends, on average, $1,000 less per child than most other school systems, Price said, adding that only 15 systems in Georgia spend less.
State law requires any government agency collecting property taxes to hold three public hearings if it does not rollback millage rates after reassessment of property values.
The county government as well as the two city governments of Harlem and Grovetown has held similar public hearings concerning their individual millage rates.
Grovetown's current millage rate is 4.64, and the city's tax digest grew by nearly $9 million in 2004.
"So having the mill rate the same as the past few years, with that additional $8 million growth, will increase the tax income," Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau said. "If we roll it back according to the mill rate, we would have to roll it back to 4.4, and we would be losing $17,000 in taxes."
Harlem intends to levy property taxes this year that are 0.69 percent more than the amount a rolled back millage would have been, resulting in a 5.42 millage rate for city residents.
And Columbia County residents are looking at a millage rate of 9.38 - 7.70 mills to pay for maintenance and operation expenses on top of a new 1.68 mills that will be used to cover fire service protection.
Most property owners in the county were paying for the fire protection through subscription fees, which they will not be billed for now that the tax is being levied and the county has forged contracts with various fire departments.
The county will hold a final rollback hearing Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in the Evans government complex auditorium on Ronald Reagan Drive.
The school board also will hold two more rollback hearings, which are scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. at a regular board meeting at the system's main office in Appling and a final hearing Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. at Evans High School.
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