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Showdown on tax hike looms
BOE ready for input
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Forsyth County News

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For more information on the Forsyth County Board of Education’s meeting tonight, or to sign up to speak, visit www.forsyth.k12.ga.us.

The Forsyth County Board of Education is set to approve its final millage rates Thursday night, following an opportunity for public input.

As agreed June 23, the proposed tax increase may be as high as 2.185 mills, though the board could reduce that.

As with every board meeting, there will be a public participation session during which attendees can comment on agenda items.

Those wishing to speak must sign up at least 15 minutes before the 6 p.m. meeting.

Requests to speak can also be faxed, e-mailed, sent via the system’s Web site or dropped off at the school system’s central office.

Some residents and the Forsyth County Tea Party have expressed dismay at the possible tax hike.

They have asked the school board to reconsider, proposing deeper budget cuts instead.

Among those planning to speak is local tea party founder Steve Voshall.

"I think Forsyth County citizens appreciate our school system and the job that they do … but just like every citizen in this county has to maintain their budget, so does the school system," he said.

"I am hoping they hear what we have to say. I’m hoping to be able to influence their decision and help them maybe realize that people in this county are hurting."

Tom Cleveland, chairman of the school board, said he expects a lot of discussion during the meeting.

"We can influence each other and through conversation, and through what the public has given us and what we’ve found out," he said.

Cleveland said he’s received phone calls and e-mails asking not to raise the rate.

In response, he said he asks residents for ideas on how the system could make it work without the additional revenue.

"It usually leads to a conversation," he said. "Some offer their thinking around where to cut and I take that as input and that is what I’m seeking.

"We have to keep an open mind."

The board is scheduled to vote on the new rate after hearing from the public.

A mill, 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 system’s maintenance and operations tax rate has held steady at 15.395 mills for the past three years.

The board has proposed raising the rate to the "rollback" rate of 16.58 mills.

The "rollback" rate is the tax levy that takes into consideration changes in the values of property in the county.

The rollback increase is supposed to offset losses in property values so that total tax collections remain constant.

By approving that rate, the system will earn an additional $9.4 million, enough to cover its projected $5 million shortfall.

The shortfall would have been $11.3 million, had it not been for a $6.5 million federal grant that will not be an option next year.

The board could also approve a 1 mill increase to its debt services, or bond, millage rate, above the current rate of 1.418 mills.

Raising the bond millage rate to 2.418 mills would generate nearly $7.8 million, enough to pay off another year of voter-approved bond programs from 1992, ‘95 and ‘98.

The system currently doesn’t have the money to meet those obligations.

Reverting to the rollback rate of 1.527 for bonds instead of increasing the rate by 1 mill, wouldn’t be enough, school finance officials have said.