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April 12, 2014

Tax increase, some cuts likely to balance Dalton school budget

Next discussion set for Monday

During a work session last Monday, Dalton Board of Education members and school officials discussed a property tax rate of between 8.55 and 8.85 mills.

Such an increase would cost a typical homeowner in the city approximately $60 to $120 more a year depending on the value of their house, school officials said.

The tax rate currently sits at 7.845 mills, with a mill representing $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed value. For a $100,000 home at a 7.845 rate without any exemptions, the homeowner would pay $784.50 to the school system.

School board members are looking to balance a proposed budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins on July 1. Raising the tax rate by those amounts would bring in $2 million to $4 million, officials said.

Board members are expected to review the proposed budget at their Monday meeting at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

The most recent budget forecast provided by the school system assumes $65.9 million in revenue and $66.1 million in expenses for fiscal year 2015, leaving a $195,000 deficit.

In the fiscal year 2014 budget, officials expected $59.6 million in revenue and $64.1 in expenses, with a $4.5 million shortfall. Board members voted to pull from their reserve fund to make up the difference, reducing the fund from $12.5 million to $8 million.

The anticipated 2015 numbers include an increase in state funding of some $3.5 million, cuts to school operations of $800,000 from unfilled positions and lower materials costs, and the property tax increase.

Board members all say they don’t want to use the reserve fund again because that money is needed to cover payroll and operations expenses in the winter months when property tax revenue becomes stagnate. If anything, Superintendent Jim Hawkins said, the school system should look at ways of adding to that balance.

“$10 million is what we’d like that to be,” Hawkins said, emphasizing the fund is not something school systems should rely on when balancing their budget.

Theresa Perry, chief financial officer for the school system, said Wednesday she could not provide an up-to-date budget forecast until Monday because she was working to crunch “unofficial” numbers and emphasized that the budget forecast could change if more state funding is received.

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