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Party critical of proposed tax hike
Members want BOE to seek deeper cuts
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Forsyth County News

What’s next

The Forsyth County Board of Education is scheduled to vote on final millage rates during its July 21 meeting.

They typically oppose any tax increases during a struggling economy.

But the Forsyth County Tea Party’s opposition to the proposed school system tax increase goes deeper.

"We were told if we got the SPLOST, we wouldn’t get the millage rate increase," said Steve Voshall, party founder. "I don’t think the SPLOST would have passed had they said ‘in addition to the SPLOST, we’re going to raise your millage rate.’"

During its July 21 meeting, the Forsyth County Board of Education is set to approve up to a combined 2.185 mill increase between the school system’s two millage rates.

Voshall and other members of his group plan to be there to show their opposition.

In March, Forsyth voters overwhelmingly approved the extension of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, for education.

The bulk of the 1-cent sales tax will go toward paying off the system’s bond debts from 2005 and 2007.

But to pay debt on the 1992, ’95 and ’98 bonds, the system was looking at about a $6.8 million shortfall this year.

By raising the millage rate for bonds by 1 mill, the system can collect about $7.7 million, enough to cover the shortage and start building reserves.

The board also plans to increase its rate for maintenance and operations, from 15.395 mills to 16.58 mills, to cover a projected $5 million gap in its budget.

A mill, or 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.

Voshall and others contend the older debts were not mentioned by the system or supporters of the sales tax extension leading up to the election.

Board members have also recently commented that there was a misconception the sales tax vote would replace the need for a property tax increase.

The sales tax literature said if the referendum failed, the board would need to increase property taxes.

It did not, however, state that approval of the sales tax would mean no tax hike, officials have noted.

The Forsyth County Republican Party has not taken an official stance on the issue, said chairman Ethan Underwood.

However the Forsyth County Democratic Party has expressed disappointment in the school board’s handling of the tax referendum.

"This situation could have been minimized had there been a greater emphasis on honest and open communication with full disclosure," according to the party’s position.

"We cannot shortchange our future by depriving its greatest asset, a well-educated youth and education, nor can we allow our property owners and taxpayers to endure excessive burdens in these tremulous economic times when the security of a job, home and food on the table are still in jeopardy."

The Democratic Party’s position is to support the board’s millage increase, in this particular instance.

But the party also asks the school system look into waste reduction, roll back the rate once the debt obligations are covered and communicate openly with taxpayers and voters earlier about pending tax changes.

Voshall agreed, saying the school board needs to make cuts to its budget instead of going to taxpayers for help.

"With a [$263] million budget, there should be plenty of room in there to cut the [money] that they say they need," he said. "We are of the mind-set that governments needs to run their budgets based upon the income that’s being received.

"We all know the income is down, but they need to cut their budgets, and asking for a 1 or 2 percent decrease by department is just not sufficient."

Tom Cleveland, chairman of the local school board, maintains the system has made some serious cuts.

"Where are we missing it?" he said. "As far as I can tell, we’ve cut where we can and we’re being responsible in spending.

"I’m looking for constructive criticism. Show me where. I’m looking for particular items to think about. I’m always open to new ideas.

"At this time, this is the best we feel we can do … without decreasing the level of education this community wants."