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Forsyth County school board explains tax hike

What’s next

Residents have two more chances to share their opinions on or ask questions about the proposed tax increase with the Forsyth County Board of Education:

* 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. July 16

* Both will be held at the school system’s central office, 1120 Dahlonega Highway.

FORSYTH COUNTY — The Forsyth County Board of Education fielded questions from residents Wednesday during the first of three public hearings on a proposed school tax increase, pending the approval of a higher millage rate.

About five people showed up for the hearing, asking about the recently approved fiscal year 2016 budget that includes a 2 percent increase in teacher salaries and 124 new positions, among other expenditures.

“Our budget is 90 percent people,” said School Superintendent Jeff Bearden.

He said school taxes had not been raised in four years due to the recession but that the increase is necessary to stay competitive with school systems in metro Atlanta.

During that time, the district had been dipping into its reserves, causing interest rates for bonds — which are used to fund construction projects — to increase.

A mil, the rate used to calculate taxes, is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. Assessed value is 40 percent of actual market value.

The board tentatively agreed to a rate of 17.3 mills, which would result in a tax increase of $177 for a home with a fair market value of $250,000.

For a non-homestead exempted property with a fair market value of $250,000, the increase likely will be about $181.

Ann Crow, school board member for District 1, noted the school system lost about $19 million in taxes last year due to senior citizens being exempt.

She also pointed out the district is about to begin paying health insurance and retirement benefits for non-certified employees such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers, who had been previously supported by the state.

Residents’ concerns included why impact fees levied on new development could not be used and why the school board doesn’t have more say in what the county commission approves for rezoning.

Impact fees, according to the board, cannot be used by the school system.

Altering that would require a change to the Georgia Constitution, where it likely would not receive support from counties that need to encourage growth.

Bearden noted that even with the increase in mills, Forsyth would remain the lowest in metro Atlanta for spending per student.

As for overcrowded schools, Bearden said districts have to prove to the state that a campus is at or above capacity before being allowed to build a new school.

In Forsyth, he said, when that finally happens three or four years down the road, it’s way too late. But school districts that are stagnant often envy Forsyth’s “growth problem.”