Local News

June 9, 2014

Dalton school board raises property tax

Dalton property owners will see their first tax increase in a decade this year.

The Dalton Public Schools Board of Education voted 4-0 Monday to approve a 2015 budget that calls for increasing its property tax rate to 8.5 mills from 7.845 mills. The property tax increase will raise the bill on a $100,000 home to $850 this year from $748.50 last year, Chief Financial Officer Theresa Perry said.

That increase is expected to bring in an extra $1.845 million for fiscal 2015, which starts July 1.

Several people asked questions or raised concerns about the tax increase during a public hearing on the budget before the board meeting. Five people spoke at the third and final hearing before the tax increase vote. No members of the public spoke during the first two public hearings.

Cathy Holmes presented data that showed after the tax increase Dalton will have one of the highest tax rates of the state’s more than 180 school systems. Those systems with higher property tax rates are in DeKalb, Muscogee and Rockdale counties, which have substantially higher median household incomes and substantially lower poverty rates than Dalton, she said.

“Dalton was wealthy once,” Holmes said. “We aren’t as wealthy as we once were, and we need to stop acting like we are.”

Board members said years of cuts in state funding and a local property tax digest that has declined 13 percent since 2009 left them little choice but to raise the property tax rate.

“We’ve made cuts in our budget as far as we thought we could, and we aren’t comfortable taking our fund balance down below $7 million,” said Danny Crutchfield, chairman of the board of education.

Crutchfield said the school system needs to maintain a fund balance large enough to cover short-term expenses while waiting on tax funds to come in.

“If you don’t have a fund balance, you have to borrow that money,” he said.

The 2015 general fund budget forecasts $65.475 million in revenues ($29.345 million locally) and $66.221 million in expenses for an operating difference of $746,187, which will be covered by dipping into the fund balance. Among the changes in expenditures for fiscal year 2015 are $629,800 for increasing employee salaries (administrators’ salaries would remain frozen) and adding eight teachers due to the growth in student enrollment.

In the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, revenue is projected to be $59.6 million and expenses $64.1 million. Board members voted to use reserve funds to help cover the $4.5 million shortfall. The fund balance is projected to be $8.2 million at the end of fiscal 2015.

According to Perry, Dalton Public Schools currently ranks 102 out of 178 school systems in the state in spending per pupil and 123 in revenue.

Salaries and benefits account for 82.9 percent of system spending, she said.

Board members also recognized:

• The Dalton High School boys and girls golf teams. Both teams won the Region 7-4A championship this year, and the girls finished second in the state championship.

• The Dalton Middle School yearbook, which was named a National Yearbook Program of Excellence by Josten’s yearbook program.

• Superintendent Jim Hawkins, who received the president’s award from the Georgia School Superintendent’s Association.

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