Board of Education votes to maintain property tax rate

Board of Education votes to maintain property tax rate

The Fayette County Board of Education formally voted to keep the property tax rate at 20 mills at Monday night’s meeting. The vote was 4-1, with board member Barry Marchman voting against.
The general fund millage rate will stay at 20 mills, with the bond (debt service) millage rate reducing from 1.45 to 1.35 mills. The property tax supports the already-approved $184 million budget for the 2015-16 school year.
“I know there’s been some discussion about the merits of the possibility of looking at decreasing the millage rate,” said Superintendent Dr. Joseph Barrow. “We’re still somewhat in a catchup mode with regard to having gone through some pretty austere times.”
It was the superintendent’s recommendation to stay at 20 mills, and his advice was echoed by much of the board.
“The feedback that I have gotten, I have had no one tell me that they wanted to back off the 20 mills,” said board member Diane Basham. “I think in this community we want smaller classes, and we want to compensate our teachers. I want to keep the course that we’re going now. I would like to, at the middle of the year, look at bumping that pay up again.”
Board member Dan Colwell talked about the need to be cautious with potential funding changes coming from the state level.
“We’re still faced with one huge, huge unknown. The governor has appointed a commission to look at totally revamping or restricting the way school systems are financed. We don’t know what that’s going to look like,” said Colwell. “We don’t usually get pleasant surprises from our legislators. I think we need to continue to build our nest egg so that, whatever surprises we’re in for, we’ll be able to handle them.”
Marchman was the lone voice against maintaining the millage rate.
“We’re a projected $25 million over budget. That’s $6 million over a 10-percent reserve balance. Even without this millage increase, we’re collecting a million dollars more than we need this year,” said Marchman. “We’ve taken care of the students. We’ve taken care of the teachers. We’ve taken care of the administrators. One of the stakeholders that we haven’t given a nod to is the taxpayers.”
Marchman asked for support on any reduction on the millage, even as little as dropping it to 19.9, but he got no second to his motion.
“I certainly want to continue to be a very good steward of the taxpayers’ dollars,” said Barrow. “We have some really high quality programs here. Our AP offerings, I’d stack those up pretty much against any system in the state. We have great fine arts. A lot of times what happens, when financial tough times come, districts start cutting those out. Our system has refused to do that, because we want to do what’s right for our children. Maybe, if the economy continues to improve, we might be able to give (lowering the millage rate) some consideration.”
One sign of brighter days ahead came in the early student counts. Through the first ten days of school, the live body count (the number of students actually in the building) was 20,054. That lines up closely with the number at this same time last year.
“We didn’t have a dip in enrollment, which has been the trend over the last several years,” said Barrow. “Our numbers are up, particularly in the elementary setting. Maybe that’s a preview of coming attractions that our system is on the rebound with our enrollment and growth. We’re very pleased with our student count.”
The Center of Innovation is also showing promising signs out of the gates with 125 students at the Center and 108 in culinary arts at Sandy Creek.
“We’re very excited that we’ve gotten off to a phenomenal start,” said Barrow.

Christopher Dunn

Managing Editor Christopher Dunn has been with the Fayette County News since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Victory magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.