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School board approves tax increase
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The Dawson County School Board voted Friday, July 12, to approve a property tax rate increase of 4.8 percent bringing the total to 17.246 mills.

Property owners in Dawson County will see the increase in their September property tax bills.

Compared with surrounding counties, Dawsons new rate is higher than Pickens, Lumpkin, White, and Forsyth counties. It is lower than Gilmer and Hall counties.

The state has stepped back on funding public education, said School Superintendent Keith Porter during Fridays public hearing. Typically, the state would provide over 50 percent, and in some districts its 98 percent.

Now, local communities are being asked to fund public education.

For fiscal year 2014, the state will provide 36 percent for the Dawson County school district, creating a $2.5 million deficit.

The deficit is a result of four items beyond the boards control, according to Porter.

Decreases in revenues

A 9.4 percent decrease in property tax collections over last year net loss, $1,898,753. Since 2009, there has been a nearly 50 percent decline in Dawson County property tax value.

Commission paid to Dawson County to collect taxes (increase from 1.75 to 2.50) net loss, $111,391. According to Georgia law, counties may charge school districts up to 2.50 percent to collect taxes.

Increase in expenses

State health insurance for classified employees $150/month net loss, $357,480. By state law, school districts must contribute to health insurance.

Teachers retirement fund increased from 11.41 percent to 12.28 percent net loss, $156,422. More people are retiring because they think theyre not going to get a raise, said Porter. The state has to pay more, so what did they do? They passed that down to the board.

Dawson County resident Richard Hamil responded during the public hearing.

... Government, he said, is the only entity that has a right to put a gun to peoples heads and take their money. Our elected officials have to help us out.

Without a millage increase, and based on current expenses and limited state funding, by 2015 the Dawson school district would have a deficit of nearly $4.1 million.

If we dont take care of that deficit, the state could come in and take over our school system, said School Board President Doris Cook.

Even with the increase, the school district in 2015 will be nearly $363,000 in debt.

Additionally, the state mandates how the school spends its 1-cent sales tax (Education Local Option Sales Tax, ELOST) approved by Dawson County voters in November 2009.

We cant use a penny of that to pay anyone or turn on the lights, said Porter. ELOST dollars are earmarked for buildings and technology. If we just had a little flexibility, it would help us a lot.

House Rep. Kevin Tanner agrees.

I have championed the idea of giving increased flexibility to local school systems over how they utilize their resources, he said.

Tanner supported a bill introduced during the last legislative session that would allow Georgia voters the opportunity to decide if local school boards should have that flexibility.

... It is not supported by the state association that represents school boards and school superintendents in our state, Tanner said. This makes it very difficult to get the bill passed in the General Assembly.

Porter noted that the states department of community health has a monopoly on health insurance.

They tell us what were going to pay, he said. We have no choice. We cant get out there and shop it.

Elaine Wilson, school board member and past board president, weighed in on the discussion.

One thing, they (department of community health) were solvent until 2008, and the legislature got in there and took money out of state health insurance to balance the budget, she said. Now, they have no choice but to come back and raise rates because the legislature took their money.

Porter agreed.

Thats right. We heard there was $350 to $500 million in reserves..., but the state took that money to help the budget, and there was zero left, he said. They cant keep up with claims unless they increase the rates.

Three other items have had a negative impact on the Dawson County school budget.

First, Dawson is considered a wealthy district by the state; second, austerity cuts, and third, property tax exemptions.

We have nearly 50 percent of our kids eating free or reduced lunches, Porter said. Yet, were considered one of the wealthiest districts in the state based on property values.

Because of that wealth, five mills of locally collected property tax money is sent out of Dawson County to help fund poorer school districts.

During the 2012-2013 school year, Dawson County sent $6.6 million.

Since 2003, Dawson County taxpayers have sent more than $64 million to other districts, according to a slide presented by Porter.

Second, austerity cuts for the upcoming school year will result in a loss of more than $2 million. In economics, austerity cuts refer to a policy of deficit-cutting by lowering spending often through a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided, according to Wikipedia.com. These policies are aimed at reducing deficit spending and are sometimes coupled with tax increases to demonstrate long-term fiscal solvency to creditors.

Since 2003, austerity cuts have resulted in a loss of more than $14 million to Dawson County schools.

Third, exemptions for seniors who own property in Dawson County have hit the school district hard.

If you remember we used to have an exemption for those who had low income when they reached a certain age, Porter said. I agree that we dont want people losing their homes because they cant pay their tax, so we had an income limit on this.

But, a few years ago, the local community voted to do the exemption for anyone when they reach 70, regardless of income. Thats when we saw a big reduction in the amount of funds available for the school system.

After the public hearing portion of the meeting, Elaine Wilson made a motion to pass the tax increase. The motion was seconded by Will Wade. Board member Roger Slaton was absent, and Doris Cook left early for another meeting.

To Calculate Your Tax Rate

The Dawson County Board of Education approved a 4.8 percent school tax increase bringing the total to 17.246 mills (an increase of 0.790 mills). One mill represents $1 for every $1,000 of the home's value.

Here's how it will affect your taxes this year. Tax bills are mailed in September.

Property is assessed for taxing purposes at 40 percent. Someone who owns a home valued at $100,000 would pay taxes on $40,000.

To calculate the increase in your property taxes, take 40 percent of your home's value and multiply by 0.790, which is the actual millage rate of the increase.

A homeowner whose property is valued at $100,000 would pay approximately $31.20 more this year than last.

A homeowner whose property is valued at $200,000 would pay approximately $63.20 more this year than last.

A homeowner whose property is valued at $300,000 would pay approximately $94.80 more this year than last.

Any exemptions are not factored in to these increases.

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