September 10, 2013

Whitfield school officials hold tax rate, say ‘recovering economy’ helps

Rachel Brown

— After having “a little bit better year than we anticipated,” Whitfield Board of Education Chairman Louis Fordham said officials didn’t even have to consider raising the tax rate this year.

Board members at their Monday night meeting unanimously approved keeping the property tax rate the same at 18.756 mills. A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed value. The tax rate amounts to about $735 for the owner of a home valued at $100,000 with a standard homestead exemption.

“We’re still losing money this year, but a smaller amount than we had planned for,” Fordham said.

The proposed budget anticipates $99.5 million in revenues and $100.3 million in expenses, while last year’s budget expected $94 million in revenues and $97.6 million in expenses. The difference is made up through a reserve of extra money the school system keeps on hand to cover unexpected expenses. Officials project about $850,000 will remain in that fund by June 30, 2014, the end of the fiscal year.

The property tax rate is expected to generate a little more than $29.2 million in local revenue, about $200,000 more than last year thanks to an improving economy, officials said.

Fordham said the district can expect about $3 million in mandated expense increases annually for teacher retirement system funding, insurance for non-teaching employees and state-regulated pay increases for teachers who have reached a certain level of education or years of experience.

“We think the recovering economy will cover mandated increases,” Fordham said.

The board raised the tax rate last year from 14.756 mills to its current rate to cover increasing expenses and a decrease in state funding compared to enrollment. Fordham said that unless there are drastic changes at the state level, he doesn’t anticipate another local tax rate increase for a while.

In other business at the meeting, board members approved hiring Chattanooga-based Competition Athletic Construction to complete work on the running track and tennis courts at Southeast Whitfield High School. Work had already begun thanks to an anonymous $900,000 donation for that purpose. Fordham said board members initially thought they could go ahead with the project without putting it out for bids, but their attorneys later advised them they’re legally required to go through the bid process.

The company was the only one to bid on the project.