Sunday, July 18, 2021

Public Hearings On Oconee County Board Of Education Proposed Millage Rate Start On Monday

***Represents A 5.6 Percent Tax Increase***

Oconee County citizens get the first two of three opportunities on Monday to tell the members of the Board of Education how they feel about the Board’s decision not to reduce the school property tax rate despite the increased assessed value of county properties.

The Board voted earlier this year to use some of the increased tax revenue from the growing tax digest to offer a one-time $1,250 bonus to all employees and an additional permanent increase of $1 per hour for custodial staff, bus drivers, and school nutrition workers.

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners, by contrast, decided to make a very slight cut in the county’s millage rate.

The two hearings scheduled by the Board of Education for Monday and the one scheduled for July 26 are required by state law.

Officially, the decision to hold the millage rate steady at 16.5 is a tax increase, as the Board of Education could have reduced that rate to 15.618 to keep taxes flat.

Few people usually show up for these tax rate hearings, and the Board already has adopted a budget for the Fiscal Year that started on July 1 based on the 16.5 millage rate.

The first hearing is at 9 a.m. and the second is at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Board Room at 34 School Street in Watkinsville. The final hearing is at 6 p.m. on July 26 at the same location.

Components Of Property Tax

With the millage rate for the schools at 16.5, Oconee County property owners pay more than twice as much in school taxes as they pay for county governmental services.

Webb At Board Of Commissioners 7/6/2021

The proposed millage rate set by the county Board of Commissioners for the current fiscal year for the unincorporated parts of the county is 6.65, down just slightly from 6.686 in the last Fiscal Year.

The proposed county millage rate for Fiscal Year 2022 for the incorporated parts of the county is 7.59, down from 7.616.

Property owners in the four cities also pay an additional tax to fund the governments of those cities.

Because the reduction in county millage rates is not enough to offset the inflationary growth in the tax digest, the Board of Commissioners also has been required to hold public hearings.

John Webb, who has been a frequent spokesperson for those on fixed incomes in the county, congratulated the Board of Commissioners at the first of those hearings on July 6 for making the small cut.

Jeff Hood also spoke at the hearing, but he asked about the budget, rather than the millage rate.

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to hold additional hearings at 6 p.m. on July 27 and at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 3, in the Commissioners Chamber at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

Impact Of School Millage Rate

The tax digest for the county–real and personal property, motor vehicles, mobile homes, timber and heavy duty equipment–grew from $2.3 million to $2.4 million from 2020 to 2021.

Some of that growth resulted from improvements to property, but the growth also included what can be viewed as inflationary change, that is growth resulting from reassessment of the value of unchanged property to reflect market forces.

If the local governmental body does not reduce the millage rate to offset the inflationary growth in the tax rate, the state considers that to be a tax increase.

The Board of Education millage rate of 16.5 will result in a 5.59 percent increase in taxes.

The Board of Education would have had to have reduced the millage rate by .882 to keep taxes flat.

The Board of Education reduced the millage rate from 17.0 to 16.5 in 2019, but that still represented a 7.1 percent tax increase that year.

With the millage rate of 16.5, the owner of a home with a fair market value of $375,000 will pay approximately $130.54 more in property taxes in 2021 than in 2020.

The county tax increase–the one set by the Board of Commissioners--will result in an additional $46.77 for the $375,000 home in the unincorporated parts of the county and $64.97 in the incorporated parts of the county.

So the total tax increase for the owner of a home assessed at $375,000 will be more than $175.

Salary Adjustments

At its May 10 meeting, the Board of Education modified the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget proposed by Superintendent Jason Branch to include a $1,250 one-time bonus paid to each of the system’s 1,100 employees.

The Board also added an additional increase of $1 per hour for the 200 custodial staff, bus drivers, and school nutrition workers.

All employees in the school system also had received a $1,000 one-time supplement in April from state and federal government pandemic relief funds.

The base salary for Oconee County certified staff is $41,470.

In a news release regarding the public hearings, Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, director of Communications for Oconee County Schools, said the Board’s decision to provide the $1,250 bonus resulted in a $1.4 million addition to the budget.

The $1 salary increase resulted in a $250,000 increase, she said.

The budget also includes seven additional staff positions, step raises for all eligible staff, teacher retirement rate employer increases, and a reduction in the 12-month employee modified workday from 245 to 240 hours, the news release stated.

“The Fiscal Year 2022 budget for Oconee County Schools provides resources to accommodate a growing student population,” Jimenez wrote.

State Cuts

The Board of Education’s decision to increase the tax for the county’s schools runs counter to what the state legislature did in its session earlier in the year.

The legislature voted to cut the state’s income tax but did not restore fully state funding for education that had been cut during the pandemic.

The Fiscal Year 2021 Oconee County Schools budget included a $4.5 million austerity cut in state funds for Oconee County Schools due to the pandemic, and the Fiscal Year 2022 includes a $1.9 million cut.

The austerity cuts shifted more of the tax burden for Oconee County Schools directly to Oconee County residents.

In the Fiscal Year 2020 Oconee County Schools budget, 55 percent of the revenue came from the state, with the remaining 45 percent generated locally, mostly from property taxes.

In Fiscal Year 2021, 51 percent of the revenue came from the state, after the austerity cuts were put into place.

In Fiscal Year 2022, state revenues are again at 51 percent.

The legislature also did not fund the second part of the increase in teacher salaries proposed by Gov. Brian Kemp when he ran for office in 2018. Kemp did not include that money in his budget request.

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