June 18, 2013

County school board expected to approve budget Wednesday morning

By Christopher Smith

— No need for a property tax rate increase and increased state funding. Whitfield County Schools officials say those two things have made them more optimistic about their general budget.

School board members are expected to adopt the fiscal year 2014 school system budget during a called meeting on Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. at the central office at 1306 S. Thornton Ave. The fiscal year begins July 1.

The proposed budget expects to bring in $99.5 million through local property tax revenue and state funding to pay for most of the $100.3 million in expected costs. The $808,000 deficit would come from a $9.4 million reserve fund. The fiscal year 2013 approved general budget had $94.04 million in revenues and $97.69 million in expenditures.

Chief Financial Officer Ron Hale reported “good news” to school board members at their June 3 meeting: Gov. Nathan Deal and state legislators had restored $40 million in funding to help struggling school districts. The county school system received $6 million in unexpected funds as a result.

School Board Chairman Louis Fordham said that made the budget “amazingly better.” If that hadn’t occurred, school board members would’ve had to make budget cuts or talk about raising the tax rate two years in a row, Hale said.

School board members voted last September to raise the tax rate from 14.756 mills to 18.756 mills, nearing a 20-mill cap. School board members defended their decision as a way to avoid cutting positions. Salaries account for 85 percent of the budget, Hale said.

Still, the additional state funding this year isn’t likely to have school board members talking about a tax decrease.

“Not until teachers aren’t furloughed,” said board member Tony Stanley. “They’re struggling like everyone else and I’d want to see that restored at some point.”

Board members say they can’t predict the economy or next year’s budget, but are hopeful things will continue to improve.