Local News

May 29, 2014

‘Time for a tax increase’

Public no-shows tax hearings; school board members defend proposal

Nobody wants a tax increase, Dalton Board of Education member Steve Laird said Thursday.

But, Laird added, “I think Theresa (Perry, chief financial officer for Dalton Public Schools), did a good job of showing the need for a tax increase. With the expenditures where we are, with the enrollment growth (from 6,736 students in 2009 to 7,564 students in 2013), it was time for a tax increase.”

Laird was referring to a detailed presentation that Perry offered twice on Thursday at City Hall during public hearings on the school system’s plans to increase the property tax rate from 7.845 to 8.5 mills.

No member of the public spoke during either of the two hearings on Thursday.

A third public hearing will be Monday, June 9, at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, followed by the board’s regularly scheduled meeting at 6:30 p.m. when members are expected to approve the tax increase.

Board members say a continuing decline in the local tax digest and loss in accompanying tax revenue of $3.165 million since 2009 caused them to consider the property tax increase. The increase in the property tax rate is expected to generate $1.84 million for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1, assuming no change in property digest values on average.

“We feel like we will be good stewards of this money,” Laird said.

Even with the tax increase, taxpayers will still be paying less than they were in 2009 because of decreased property values, said Perry.

A home valued at $113,000 in 2009 would be valued at approximately $100,000 now. At the current tax rate, the homeowner would pay $784.50 in school taxes. At the proposed increased rate, a homeowner would pay $850. That’s $36.49 less than the homeowner would have paid in 2009, Perry said.

The tentative 2015 general fund budget anticipates $65.475 million in revenues ($29.345 million locally) and $66.221 million in expenses for an operating difference of $746,187. 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.

Board member Rick Fromm said he believes cutting any more spending from the budget would “put staff in great peril.”

Since 2009 funding from the state has been cut some $21.3 million in what are called “austerity reductions,” but board members say the quality of education provided to students has not been compromised.

“A lot of these numbers trouble me,” said Danny Crutchfield, school board chairman. “But even though things have gotten tougher, our teachers still come to work every day and deliver the best instruction they can, they challenge students and continue to look for new ways to do things, and I think that’s a credit to our staff and leadership all the way down.”

“This community has always believed in investing in education,” Crutchfield said. “I think it takes courage from this board, and the boards before us that have really established that culture, and again that’s a credit to our community, that our community is willing to make the investment, they understand it and see how important it is.”

Staff writer Misty Watson contributed to this story.

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