September 10, 2013

No increase as Dalton school board adopts temp rate

By Christopher Smith

— A property tax increase from the Dalton Board of Education this year is unlikely. But if projections hold true, there will probably be a tax hike in the near future.

Board members unanimously voted 5-0 Monday night to adopt a temporary millage rate of 7.845. That means an increase to the local property tax rate is unlikely. A final meeting to make the rate official is set for Oct. 1 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed value. For a standard $100,000 home at a 7.845 rate without any exemptions, taxpayers pay about $784.50 annually to school officials.

Board member Richard Fromm said no rate increase this year is indicative of the “good job” school system administrators are doing. He questioned The Daily Citizen’s recent coverage of the tax decision. The newspaper published an article detailing the school budget after school board members wouldn’t rule out a tax increase this year.

A Sept. 4 article titled “Spending on turf field questioned as Dalton school board talks tax” detailed the system’s spending of an estimated $1.35 million of general fund money on the new Dalton High School artificial turf field and track during tight economic times. Board members defended the use of money as an investment in city students and because the running track around the field needed repairs.

“I find it curious, I guess, about The Daily Citizen’s standpoint and comments and questions about the budget,” Fromm said at the meeting. “Our budget process begins in February. Every year we have meetings to discuss it.

“I missed the meeting last month (in August) and was surprised to read about the angst in the paper about the possibility that we would discuss the millage rate increase. I’m proud we’re continuing without one.”

Fromm said, eventually “something else has to be done” with the budget with school officials taking $4.52 million out of the system’s $10.6 million “rainy day” fund because they’re spending more than they’re making in tax revenue.

A budget projection provided by the school system assumes $59.6 million in revenue and $64.2 million in expenses for fiscal year 2014, which began in July. About 69 percent of the cost going towards classroom instruction, including teacher pay.

“This should be obvious,” Fromm said. “If projections continue as they are with (student body) growth there will probably be a millage increase.”

This year school officials reported an increase from about 7,500 students last year to 7,700 students this year. Instructional costs, including hiring 50 new teachers last month to keep the teacher-student ratio at 1 to 14, went from $42.6 million last year to an estimated $44.1 million this year and an expected $48.4 million in 2014.

When the seemingly inevitable rate increase happens isn’t clear, with several board members reluctant to give an exactly timetable.

“Are we going to do it next year? In two years? In three years?” Chairman Danny Crutchfield told The Daily Citizen in the Sept. 4 article. “We can’t say for sure with a lot of confidence.”

At the Monday meeting, Crutchfield said he “echoed” Fromm’s comments, defending the way school officials “run things.”

“We don’t look at this one meeting of the year,” Crutchfield said of talking tax. “We constantly follow it. We’re constantly looking at our expenses. We always have to look at revenue sources and taxes are a part of that. We didn’t just start talking about it. It is a source of revenue we have to look at.”

“I am proud of the system,” he added, “for the way we do things.”