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June 2, 2013

Whitfield school board making the right call on taxes

Whitfield County property owners took a hit last year when both the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners raised their taxes.

But school board members say they can make it without a tax hike this year, and that’s a bit of good news for county property owners.

As a story in today’s edition notes, school board members are considering a fiscal year 2014 budget that calls for $99.5 million in revenue from state funding and local property taxes and $100.3 million in expenses. The $800,000 deficit will be paid out of the school system’s $9.4 million reserve fund. That means the school system won’t need a tax increase, and four of the board’s five members have gone on record saying they don’t expect to raise taxes this year.

The school system’s fiscal year starts July 1, and school board members expect to approve a budget by the end of this month. They will set their property tax rate later this fall.

The Board of Education last year raised its property tax rate to 18.756 mills from 14.756 mills. And voters approved a 1 percent education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) that took effect Jan. 1 of this year. That raised Whitfield County’s sales tax rate to 6 percent from 5 percent and the sales tax on groceries to 2 percent from 1 percent.

Last year, the Board of Commissioners raised its property tax rate to 6.061 mills from 5.061 mills. Commissioners haven’t said yet whether they expect to raise their general property tax rate. But they will set up a special tax district this year, covering the area outside the city of Dalton.

Commissioners agreed to set up the special tax district last year when they signed an agreement dividing Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenues with the county’s four cities. The agreement followed court decisions that counties cannot tax municipal residents to fund services that go primarily to those in unannexed parts of the county.

Since the city of Dalton provides its own fire department, the county can’t fund its fire department out of general revenues. The county must also fund its share of some jointly funded services, such as the library, from the special tax district.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Babb said in May that it looks like the county will assess a 1.5-mill tax in the special tax district. So with county taxpayers already facing one certain tax increase this year, school board members will deserve a big thanks if they hold their tax rate steady.


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