Local News

September 4, 2013

Spending on turf field questioned as Dalton school board talks tax

Members ‘leaning’ against increase this year, unsure about next

Weeks after the completion of an artificial turf field and running track at Dalton High School expected to cost about $1.35 million, paid for with taxpayer dollars, members of the Board of Education are set to decide whether to raise property taxes.

Board member Steve Williams, who is not seeking re-election, has said he does not support a tax rate increase this year. But several other board members have said an increase — if not this year — is seemingly inevitable given the slow economic recovery in the area.

Board members are expected to discuss the tax rate at their meeting on Monday at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Another meeting is expected later this month to approve the tax rate, but a date hasn’t been selected, city schools spokeswoman Pat Holloway said.

Board Chairman Danny Crutchfield said several members are “leaning” against a tax rate increase this year, adding that “at some point in time” an increase is likely.

Board member Richard Fromm said he doesn’t “anticipate a recommendation” from school system officials to increase the rate this year, but the same can’t be said for the next few years.

“(An increase) may be necessary in the future to be able to continue supporting our excellent educational system,” Fromm said. “We are constantly assessing and reassessing the funding for Dalton Public Schools.”

The rate is currently 7.845 mills, with a mill representing $1 for every $1,000 worth of property, including cars, homes and office space, among other high priced items. For a $100,000 home at that rate without any exemptions, the property tax is $784.50 annually. Theresa Perry, chief financial officer for the school system, told board members at their August meeting that an increase of 0.4 mills would bring in about $1 million.

Crutchfield said spending on the field was a “good decision” even though the economy has been down and school finances tight. Board member Mark Orr said “the track was in an unsafe condition and had to be replaced.”

Catamount home football games are played on Harmon Field south of Dalton High. That field is owned by the city. The new practice field and track, which sit next to Waugh Street, were not paid for through a 1 percent education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) like many other construction projects, but instead from out of the school system’s general budget.

Perry said school officials could have used ESPLOST money because the ballot measure that voters approved in July 2012 included “acquiring, constructing and equipping new school buildings and facilities, including but not limited to educational/athletic facilities ...”

But the first part of the sales tax money was already planned to be used to relocate Morris Innovative High School from its Morris Street location to Fort Hill in 2012 and to expand Dalton Middle School, she said. Renovations at Fort Hill cost $2.83 million, while Dalton Middle’s expansion is expected to cost approximately $10.7 million.

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