The Dawson County Board of Education held its first millage rate hearing for fiscal year 2019 on Aug. 7, where board member Will Wade suggested the possibility of a small rollback.
The school millage rate has been set at 15.778 mills since 2016, but there is a possibility that it could be rolled back slightly due to a higher increase in the 2018 tax digest than anticipated.
When the board finalized the 2019 budget, officials anticipated a 10 percent increase in the local tax digest based on numbers available in early June, which would generate $20.8 million in local revenue if the millage rate was maintained.
The 2018 tax digest numbers were finalized at the end of June and showed that the tax digest increased by 12.69 percent, more than the board projected according to Superintendent Damon Gibbs.
If the millage rate were to stay at 15.778, it would generate $21.3 million in local revenue for the school system, an increase of $518,206 from the board’s projection.
Based on maintaining the millage rate, the ending fund balance for the school system would be approximately $5.2 million, which is within the range that Gibbs said he would like in the ending balance.
“I lean on the conservative side based on the amount of growth that we’ve seen to date,” Gibbs said. “My concern is that we have continued to work the ending fund balance down to a reasonable number.”
Over the past five years the board has worked to reduce the ending fund balance to be around 12 percent of the operating costs. The 2019 budget was set at $47,766,471, so 12 percent would be approximately $5.64 million. The board wants to stay within $5 to $5.5 million in the ending fund balance.
Based on the 12.69 percent increase to the digest, Wade said Aug. 7 that the board might be in a position to roll back the millage rate slightly as the tax digest projection increase would generate an additional $518,000.
“I think we’re in a position where we have a lot of longer term goals," Wade said. "I don’t think we should collect more than we need and when we have an opportunity to give a little back especially when we’re in an economy where tax values have gone up we just need to consider it."
For the first time since 2008, before the economic recession, the school board is set to collect over $20 million in local revenue.
“My thought process is that the community, if you look at the last decade when we were going through the economic woes, we did not get pushback from the raise in millage in order to just to try to keep up,” Wade said. “Now that the economy is better there is a tug for me to continue to make sure we advocate for the taxpayer.”
Wade suggested that the board look at a potential rollback either this year or next year.
At the second hearing Aug. 13, Financial Director Jamie Ulrich took Wade’s comments into consideration and provided figures for a potential millage rate of 15.500. The .278 reduction amounts to a difference of $375,861 in revenue collection and a total net of $20.9 million.
Brooke Anderson, general manager of the Etowah Water and Sewer Authority, was the only citizen to speak at the second hearing. Anderson said he would like to see the millage rate remain at 15.778.
On the first day of school, the school system had an increase in enrollment by five percent, which the board anticipates to be higher by the end of the school year. It’s something Anderson asked the board to keep in mind in their decision.
“Your current growth is five percent. I can tell you the homes being built in this community are exploding. You’re not going to end with five percent. You’re going to end with something higher,” said Anderson. “If you come up short the kids are going to lose, not you.”
Anderson also explained that the recent tax revaluations completed by the county were on the residential side, and that the commercial side hasn’t been finalized.
“If you lower your millage you’re going to lose some opportunity next year when the reassessment on the commercial side does come in,” Anderson said. “You don’t want to lose that opportunity because that could be another 10, 12 percent change in the digest on that side of it.”
Another important factor was that the board of commissioners has yet to determine if it will roll back the county millage rate this year. It wouldn’t make sense for the school board to roll back its millage if the county remains the same, according to Anderson.
“If you’re going to lower it a mill then we’ll talk. If you’re not going to lower it a mill I wouldn’t change it,” Anderson said. “You gain a lot by having a little bit better fund balance.”
The third and final hearing before the school millage rate is set will be at 6 p.m. Aug. 20 at the board of education meeting room at 28 Main Street.