In the coming month, the Forsyth County Board of Education will hold three public hearings on a proposed property tax which is set to increase due to a recent vote to tentatively approve the district maintenance and operation millage rate.
At the regularly scheduled June meeting of the Forsyth County Board of Education, the board briefly considered a roll-back of the millage rate, but after some consideration members voted unanimously to approve the maintenance and operation millage and the debt service millage at their current rates.
According to Chris Griner, Forsyth County School chief financial officer, due to recent county tax reassessments, by maintaining the millage at its current rate instead of rolling rates back in concert with the reassessments, the school system will be approving a property tax increase.
"By not rolling that back, it creates an increase of 6.12 percent. But if you were to roll it back, there would be no increase due to the reassessments,” Griner said. "The board is leaving the millage rate where it is. By law they have the opportunity to roll it back to 16.303, but with all the growth that the county is experiencing ... they decided not to do that roll-back."
The millage rate is the formula that calculates property taxes. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, which is 40 percent of the actual market value.
Griner said that since the millage rate is not rolling back, the district must have three public hearings to discuss why the roll-back isn't happening.
Those hearings will be held at 6 p.m. July 5 and at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. July 17 before the regularly scheduled July board meeting.
Both meetings will take place at the Forsyth County Board of Education building at 1120 Dahlonega Highway in Cumming.
At the June board meeting, before the millage rates were voted on, several members voiced their concerns towards the idea of rolling back the rate and what effects it could have on the district.
"When I got here four years ago, we set a goal of getting our fund balance to the point where we get that highest bond rating,” said Jeff Bearden, Forsyth County School Superintendent, “and if we were to roll back, we'd go almost right back to where we were four years ago. That's not a good place to be with a system that's growing and will likely need future projects."
Griner said the effect of rolling back the millage rate would cost the district millions and would be an unwise decision.
"If we rolled it back, it would end up taking about $6 or $7 million out of our fund balance ... with the growth that doesn't make much sense,” he said.
Board member Kristin Morrissey said before the vote that they do not take the idea of a rollback lightly, explaining that under different circumstances it might have been warranted.
“If we were a county that was not growing at all, we might be able to make due, but with the significant growth we have, it's just not an option," Morrissey said. "A roll-back is an important thing for counties that are not in this scenario, when they're bringing in extra revenue because their digest goes up, but that's not us."
Griner said that the maintenance and operation millage rate they are currently discussing should not be confused with the debt service millage rate that was conditionally approved in May with the new school bond referendum.
"The debt service millage rate is totally separate from the maintenance and operations millage rate,” Griner said. “... Now if the digest continues to grow at the pace it's been growing, at some point I can see there being discussions about reducing [the debt service millage rate].
"I think the one thing to point out is that that debt service millage rate hasn't been increased in eight or nine years."
The school millage rate is combined with the millage rates of the county and state for the total millage rate paid by local taxpayers.