September 11, 2012

Dalton school system gets revenue boost

Expecting to receive between $800,000 and $1 million more than they originally budgeted for, Dalton Board of Education members on Monday voted to keep the property tax rate the same as last year.

The rate will stay at $7.85 of tax per $1,000 of assessed value. City property taxes are levied on 100 percent of a property’s value before exemptions while Whitfield County Schools levies taxes on 40 percent of the value.

School system finance director Theresa Perry said officials expect to collect more taxes not because home values went up, but because other kinds of property values rose.

“As I continued to analyze the information they (the tax assessors office) provided us, the growth actually is in personal property which might mean like private jets or RVs or things that are not homes or businesses,” she said. “The personal property is what has grown in our tax digest, and that’s offsetting what’s happening in real property.”

She said the digest was projected to drop by 3 percent but instead rose by 1.6 percent. Since it didn’t affect traditional taxable property such as homes and businesses, officials don’t have to hold the public hearings normally required when revenues increase. Officials originally expected about $25 million but now anticipate closer to $26 million in revenues. The budget officials passed in June was for $61.3 million in expenditures and $56.7 million in revenues with the difference coming from fund balance. Most of the non-local revenue comes from the state.

Superintendent Jim Hawkins said the extra local revenue will help fund 10 new positions needed because of enrollment growth. The school system has about 320 more students than last year, bringing total enrollment to about 7,540.

Board members also voted on Monday to close off enrollment at Dalton High School in grades nine through 11 to out-of-district students. The school system allows out-of-district students to enroll in any school as long as there is room there.

This year, there isn’t.

Total high school enrollment grew from 1,708 students last year to 1,898 this year. The growth has officials worried about providing enough space for all those extra bodies if enrollment continues to rise by several hundred students as it has the past few years.

Board members spent about an hour during a work session just before their regular meeting discussing a proposed $20 million renovation for Morris Innovative High School. Officials are discussing moving the school from newly renovated Fort Hill, where it moved over the summer, to a renovated and expanded version of its previous location next to Blue Ridge School. One benefit of moving there would be the ability to expand enrollment to about 750 students, officials said. Expansions at Fort Hill would be more difficult because of the location’s topography and because students are in the facility, officials have said.

Yet board members aren’t even sure they want to expand Morris by that much. The school was originally designed to cater to students who weren’t doing well in a traditional high school setting and needed a smaller school with more flexibility and individual attention.

Board Chairman Danny Crutchfield said the board needs more time to study the issue.

“I just don’t think we’ve got it all figured out yet, but I think we can work on that some to get to a number,” he said.

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