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Final millage hearing is Thursday
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The Dawson County Board of Education heard from several community members during the first two of three public hearings on a proposed tax increase July 14.

"I consider everyone on this board a friend," said Chip Pearson, a county resident and former state senator. "And friends don't let friends raise taxes."

School Superintendent Keith Porter said that increased cuts in state funding, coupled with a lower tax digest, has left the board with no options.

"For nine years we haven't been in this situation," Porter said. "We haven't had to approach our community for help and assistance with the ... rolling up and raising of millage, which we're talking about doing."

Georgia law requires three public hearings before a millage rate increase can be adopted. The third and final hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

The board is proposing an increase in the millage rate, or property tax rate, of 1.9 mills to offset an expected $300,000 budget deficit.

A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value.

Since 2001, the school system's portion of the Dawson County millage rate has remained 13.646 mills for maintenance and .4 mills for bond.

If approved, the increase would amount to an additional $40 per year on a home with an assessed value of $100,000, according to school system figures.

Assessed value is 40 percent of actual market value, meaning a home worth $250,000 has an assessed value of $100,000.

A common complaint from those at the hearing was that the school system receives sales tax revenue.

But Porter was quick to point out that funds from sales tax can be used only in certain areas.

"We try to let people know that we can't use sales tax dollars in the school system for operations," Porter said. "Eighty-seven percent of our budget is for salaries, yet we can't use one penny of sales tax dollars on salaries."

Despite this, residents still have qualms with the proposed increase.

"Those are tax dollars we're having to pay, you know," Richard Hamil said. "And you're going to ask for a millage increase, and so you're getting more and more money and that comes out of my pocket."

Porter gave a presentation at the meeting, illustrating the steps the board has taken to prevent raising taxes.

Those include cutting teacher, staff and students days, as well as reducing employee and retirement benefits.

The board also heard from Brooke Anderson, a county resident and general manager of Etowah Sewer and Water Authority.

Anderson said that, as far as he could tell, the board had done everything possible to cut spending and prevent a tax hike.

"I don't know what else you can do," he said. "It's the situation that we all live in ... so what you're asking for is not an increase, you're not asking for anything that you've not already lost."

The school system lost more than $6 million in local funding in 2010, and expects to lose $6.5 million in 2012, according to school board projections.

"The state withholds five mills of our local taxes that we never see in the school system," Porter said. "Over the past nine years, we've not received close to $60 million."

Most of that money goes to school districts that are considered in need.

According to Porter, the majority of those schools are in south Georgia, though last year some of those funds went to nearby Gwinnett County schools.

"Those are locally generated funds that we never see," Porter said. "The state gives us 33 percent of our funding, so 67 percent of our budget comes from local sources, and that's unusual.

"In the state of Georgia, typically a school system receives 50 percent of their funds, or more, from the state, and we receive significantly less than that."

Thursday's hearing will be held at the Dawson County Board of Education Central Office, 517 Allen St.