School Board Hears Both Sides on Tax Increase at Public Hearing

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The Fannin School Board held two of its three required meetings for its proposed millage increase this week. It held the first two sessions on Wednesday, the first at 11:30am and the second at 6pm. The few citizens that came out to express their opinions represented both sides of the issue.

Speaking first at the morning session, Citizen Ron Scherer opposed the increase, although he said he thought reasons for raising taxes were valid concerns, in order to provide better education for Fannin County children.

“That idea,”

he said,

“that argument can always be used validly to justify more taxes. And I admire the work that our school administrators, our teachers, and our school board have done. But, I feel it’s time to say ‘no’ to new taxes.”

He went on to say it’s hard, even painful to argue against proving better programs, whether for education, roads, parks or libraries.

“But, maybe there’s another level of education that we and our children need to learn,”

he said, Continuing, he explained if citizens continue to increase taxes to try to solve the county’s problems, then the free-market which provides money will be stifled and fail to produce at a sustainable level. “I believe its time to stop tax increases,” he said.

“Every new regulation, every new increase in government in our lives chops away at our enterprise system that is the heart of the American system, this wonderful experiment in liberty, freedom, and responsibility that our Founding Fathers envisioned.”

In the end, though, Scherer did thank the board and administration for their hard work and efforts to solve the problem that’s best for the children, taxpayers, and community.

Citizen Emily Dunn said she supports the efforts of the board.

“I’m here to offer my encouragement and support of my school board and administration as you set your budget and millage rate,”

she said. The former school board member said she was deeply aware of past budgets, adding she was amazed at the fiscal management that has kept the millage the same rate since 2008. Further, she said the board and administration’s efforts reflect the return value taxpayers receive from their local taxes.

“You chose not to furlough instructional employees and always maintained 180 (instructional) days of school,”

she said.

“Our graduation rate is very high; our attendance rate is very high and our discipline is well-managed; students are taught to honor and respect our United States Veterans; you continue to attract experienced and expert teachers.”

She also said the board continues to make decisions that are researched and data-driven and that she admired the board’s transparency.

“Most importantly,”

she added,

“I feel you have a vision, a plan and focus on what’s important to our children now and for future generations.”

The board’s tentative millage adoption of 13.9, up from 12.9 requires an estimated tax increase of 6.36 percent, which Superintendent Mark Henson says is over the rollback rate. For a home with a fair market value of $125,000, the increase approximately equals an additional $39.89 on property taxes. For a home with a fair market value of $100,000, the increase approximately equals an additional $33.24 on property taxes.

Speaking at a July 11th workshop, Finance Director Susan Jackson highlighted the financial issues plaguing Fannin County’s budget. She first cited the increases in health insurance, a result of the ironically named Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“It was $150 (increase) per person per month,”

she said.

“We also had an increase in our teacher retirement system for the employer portion rate. It increased from 11.41 to 12.28.”

Additionally, she noted the district had several employees move up in pay-scale due to years of experience and certificate upgrades.

“Unfortunately, we’ve also had some RIFs (Reduction in Force plans) this year (too),”

she said. In May 2012, the district eliminated six teaching positions.

In the workshop, Henson said added to this are $1.7 million in state austerity cuts this year, a decrease in this year’s tax digest, and an increase in Fannin’s Local Fair Share. Local Fair Share is a state program where school districts are mandated to give a certain amount of its collected revenue to the state. The state then redistributes the money to presumably poorer districts. However, Gwinnett is one district receiving this money, a county typically not seen as impoverished. Henson said Fannin now sends 5 mils to the state for its Local Fair Share. This year, he said, Fannin sent $6,558,719 to the state for the program.

Henson explained if the board keeps the millage rate at 12.9 for FY14, the board will bear a $1.4 million short fall. The district has experienced deficit spending for the last few years.

“If we make more cuts to our instructional programs or personnel, we’re at the point where we’re going to start jeopardizing our student achievement,”

he said.

The millage rate has remained 12.9 for the last four years, significantly lower than surrounding counties.

The final public hearing is scheduled for July 31st at 5:30 P.M at the board of education building on East First Street in Blue Ridge. The board will also hold a special called meeting at 5:00 P.M. to set the millage rate.

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