Oconee School Board Approves Tentative Budget with Tax Increase
Board members say they struggled with the decision but don't see a better option to close a $1.2 million projected shortfall in FY13.
The Oconee County Board of Education Monday unanimously approved a $53.2 million tentative budget that calls for a property tax increase of 1 mil to 17.5 mils and two employee furlough days.
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"I'm going to confess, I've struggled with this decision," said board member Kim Argo. As a former classroom teacher, Argo said she has a unique perspective in that she's experienced firsthand how teachers have had to cope and adapt with cuts.
"If we don't want to lessen our students' education and what they deserve, we're going to have to do this or make cuts, basically," she said. "And there's really just not a lot left to cut.
Board member Mark Thomas echoed Argo's sentiment.
"I've really struggled with whether or not to increase the millage rate because, no matter how you look at it, it's an increase," he said. "And an increase in taxes is just not a good thing for the general public.
Thomas, who has kids in the school system, said he expects Oconee County Schools to continue to offer a quality education.
"We need to look out for the kids that are in the system and I feel like we've reviewed the expenses that we have in the system right now and there really just doesn't seem to me any other options," Thomas said.
Assistant Superintendent of Financial Operations Randy Morrison described the situation as being stuck "between a rock and a hard place." For five years officials have been keeping a close eye on the FY13 budget, knowing it would be a challenge, he said, and it's been worked on for the last 18 months.
"You use this very carefully -- any millage increase-- you balance that against other types of revenue that's there or not there and each year you look at that and make a determination," he said.
To see an example of how the millage rate increase may affect an average taxpayer residing in a single family home, see the attached pdf provided by Morrison.
The tentative budget will be advertised for four weeks and the school board plans to hold at least one public hearing before the final vote. The millage rate will be set in July after the consolidation of the tax digest, which Morrison said is expected to decrease overall by 6-7 percent.