Saturday, July 06, 2024

Oconee School Board Scheduled To Vote On Monday On 2.27 Percent Property Tax Increase

***Final Tax Hearing Scheduled Before Vote***

The Oconee County Board of Education is poised to vote on Monday to set the millage rate at 14.25 for Oconee County Schools, down from the originally proposed 15.0, and to compensate for the lost revenue from the lower rate by drawing down the school system’s savings account, or Fund Balance.

Oconee County Chief Financial Officer Peter Adams revealed the strategy of spending reserves to allow for the reduction in the millage in two tax hearings on Monday and in a revised budget he released at the second of those hearings.

The Fiscal Year 2025 Budget approved by the Board on June 10 added $1.7 million to the Fund Balance based on the millage rate of 15.0 and the estimated size of the county’s Tax Digest, but the budget Adams presented on Monday reduces the Fund Balance by $1.4 million.

The actual reduction in the Fund Balance is likely to be much less, however, as the Fiscal Year 2025 Budget lists interest income of only $50,000, while the Board on Monday approved amendments for the just completed Fiscal Year 2024 Budget showing $2.4 million in interest income.

The 14.25 millage rate is higher than the 13.934 rate that would be required for a full tax rollback to offset inflation reflected in higher property assessments, and the Board will hold the final of the three required public hearings on what amounts to a 2.27 percent property tax increase at 6 p.m. on Monday.

In the first two of those hearings, five citizens spoke, one of them at both hearings, raising concerns about that $50,000 projected interest income and about spending by Oconee County Schools.

Two criticized the Board for features of the newly opened Instructional Support Center, where the Board met for the first time for the tax hearings.

The final hearing on Monday also will be at the Instructional Support Center, 71 North Main Street in Watkinsville, and will be followed by a called meeting of the Board at 7 p.m. to adopt the new millage rate.

Citizen Commments At Hearings

Jean Barsanti, the first citizen to speak at the 10 a.m. session on Monday, said she has lived in Oconee County since 1976 and has “paid consistently increasing school taxes.”

Screen Shot Barsanti Tax Hearing 7/1/2025

“I don't have a child or grandchildren in Oconee County public schools,” she continued, “but I don't oppose paying school taxes in general as I support public education.”

“I do object to extravagant spending that has nothing to do with quality education such as a copula on this well as fake chimneys,” she said.

“I wonder about the cost of that desk that separates you from us,” she added. “It doesn't seem to have anything to do with public education.”

Barsanti called for a full rollback of the millage rate to avoid the tax increase from the 14.25 millage rate the Board is proposing to adopt.

Pam Hendrix, the third speaker in the morning session, referred to the Instructional Support Center as the “Taj Mahal Board Office” and said “it seems way overbuilt and most people say it doesn't really fit on Main Street Watkinsville. It's too large.”

Other Speakers And Comments

Suzannah Heimel, the second speaker at the morning session, said she had tried to get a line item Fiscal Year 2025 Budget but was told that none was available. She also challenged the use of $50,000 as interest income in the budget when the just completed year had produced much more.

Screen Shot Hendrix Tax Hearing 7/1/2025

“I'm wondering where does that money end up,” she said. “I don't see it budgeted.”

Hendrix, the third speaker at the Monday morning session and the second speaker at the 5 p.m. session on Monday, said she was concerned that the Board had not produced a balanced budget, with revenues and expenditures matched.

She said the budget listing “interest income of $50,000 is obviously incorrect, according to your own numbers. No one's bothered to change it. That just drives me crazy. It says $50,000. We know it should be somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million.”

Laura King, the first speaker at the 5 p.m. session on Monday, said when she came to the podium “I'm not well versed on the budget at all this year.” She said her concern was with bonds the Board had sold after passage of the most recent Education Local Option Sales tax and with “a very large pension obligation” held by Oconee County Schools.

The final speaker on Monday, Victoria Cruz, said “I'm not a budget person. I was trained in medicine, not the budget.”

Cruz also said she “didn't have time” to fully analyze the budget. “We just flew in from vacation. but I'm going to come next week,” she said, “and hopefully have some numbers” to report.

Sheri Long signed up to speak but didn’t come forward when given the chance to do so.

Long, Heimel, and King are running as Democrats–without party support–in November. Long is running for Post 4 on the Board of Education, King for Clerk of Superior Court, and Heimel for Post 1 on the Board of Commissioners.

Adams On Fund Balance

At the beginning of the morning and evening sessions on Monday, Oconee County Schools Chief Financial Officer Adams explained the changes in the budget resulting from the decision to reduce the millage rate from 15.0 in the budget adopted by the Board in June to 14.25.

Screen Shot Adams Tax Hearing 7/1/2025

No public discussion of that change had taken place before the meeting on Monday.

Adams said at the Monday morning session that “Oconee County Schools recommends a millage rate of 14.25 mills, which is a decrease of .75 mills from last year’s rate.”

“The law requires the mill rate to be advertised as a property tax increase,” he said, because of the inflationary increase in assessed value of property in the county.

Adams presented an updated budget that reflects anticipated revenue based on the final Tax Digest, or value of property in the county.

The final Tax Digest was not available when the Board approved Fiscal Year 2025 Budget in June, and the approved budget listed a millage rate of 15.0, rather than the millage rate of 14.25 that Adams said the Oconee County Schools administration is now proposing.

The revised budget shows an unassigned Fund Balance of $17.8 million, Adams said, and that is 15.55 percent of the total expenditures in the budget of $114,890,755.

Oconee County Schools has a policy on the size of its fund balance that states “The end-of-year Unassigned Fund Balance is recommended to be a minimum of 10 percent, but not more than 15 percent, of next year’s budgetary general fund expenditures.”

Without referencing that policy, Adams said the Georgia Department of Education recommends that the Fund Balance should be equivalent to two months of regular operating expenses.

That figure for the Fiscal Year 2025 is $19.2 million ($114,890,755 divided by 12 and multiplied by two), or 16.67 percent of expenditures (2/12).

“So I just want to make sure you're all aware of that,” Adams told the Board, referring to the difference between 15.55 percent and 16.67 percent. “But with that said, we all still recommend that we go with the 14.25 mills for your consideration,” he said.

In the afternoon session, Adams repeated much of what he had said in the morning adding that he had provided “some copies in the back row of this meeting room” of the revised budget “for anybody who's interested in taking one.”

Adams’ Revised Budget

The handout on the back row of the room contained what was labeled a General Fund Budget and a revised General Fund Budget, but the General Fund Budget was not the one approved by the Board on June 10.

Posted Legal Notice The Oconee Enterprise 7/4/2025 

Rather, it was a version of that approved budget that reflected the final Tax Digest of $3.594 billion, rather than the estimated Tax Digest of $3.614 billion used in the budget the Board approved.

The budget approved by the Board on June 10, using the tentative millage rate of 15.0 mills and a tax digest of $3.614 billion, had shown $116.6 million in state and local revenue, with $53.1 million of that coming from county property and ad valorem taxes, and with $1.7 million added to the Fund Balance.

The final Unassigned Fund Balance on June 30, 2025, was projected to be $20.9 million in that approved budget, which was 18.2 percent of expected expenditures.

This is the budget still showing on the Oconee County Schools web site.

The budget that Adams listed as General Fund Budget in his handout used the millage rate of 15.0 and the Tax Digest of $3.594 billion, resulting in $52.8 million from property and ad valorem taxes and added $1.2 million to the Fund Balance.

The final Unassigned Fund Balance was $20.5 million, or 17.81 percent of expected expenditures.

The Revised General Fund budget on the sheet produced by Adams uses the millage rate of 14.25 and the Tax Digest of $3.594 billion, resulting in $50.2 million from property and ad valorem taxes and $2.6 subtracted from (withdrawn from) the Fund Balance.

The final Unassigned Fund Balance on June 30, 2025, is $17.9 million, or the 15.55 percent of expected expenditures.

In all three budgets, total expenditures remains the same at $114.9 million, and the projected income from interest is $50,000.

Adams did not explain this, but he reduced the amount of state funding in the revised budgets.

Funding from the Qualify Basic Education (QBE) formula remained unchanged in the budget revisions, but Adams reported $169,063 less in state grants in both of his new budgets, contributing to the difference between revenue and expenditure in the budget and to the decrease in the Fund Balance.


Oconee County Schools both live streamed and recorded videos of the Tax Hearings, though it did not announce in advance its intention to do so.

Harold Thompson also video recorded the sessions for me. He also picked up the handout from Adams for me, since I was not able to attend the hearings.

The videos below are on the YouTube Channel of Oconee County Schools.

The first video is from the 10 a.m. session on Monday, and Adams spoke at 1:05.

Barsanti spoke at 6:07.

Heimel spoke at 8:01

Hendrix spoke at 10:19.

The second video is from the 5 p.m. session on Monday.

Adams spoke at 0:45.

King spoke at 5:49.

Hendrix spoke at 9:22.

Cruz spoke at 12:43.


Retired teacher Lawrence said...

Again, thanks, Lee, for your excellent reporting and inclusion of the copious details regarding the budget. And thanks to Harold, too. Do you happen to know how many chief financial officers OCS has named since Saranna Charping left? Thanks, -David Lawrence

Lee Becker said...

Since Charping, Adam’s is the fourth CFO.