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School taxes likely going up

By Sherri Ellington After six years of holding the line, the Lamar County board of education is expected to raise the millage rate this year from 16.576 to 18 mills, bringing in an extra $625,000. This will help fund the 2013-14 school year. The effect is expected to be less than $5 per week for a $100,000 house based on a millage value of $444,000 per mill. Three years ago the school system brought in $7.5 million on 15 mills before a 2.5% county collection fee and five mills, about $2.2 million, required to be given to Georgia for redistribution. In addition, state-mandated salaries and health benefit costs are going up while Georgia has cut another $1.7 million in funding for Lamar schools, a total of $11.2 million in so-called austerity cuts since 2003. Other cost-cutting measures outlined in superintendent Dr. Bill Truby’s state of the system address on March 19 include five furlough days already reflected in the next two years of calendars; outsourcing for custodial services; not replacing departing employees wherever possible; reviewing programs to see what changes can be made to run them more efficiently; and freezing budgets for departments and buildings. ’I’m proud of the work being done here in Lamar County,’ Dr. Truby said. ‘We aren’t where we want to be, but we’re making progress. There’s hope for us where others don’t have any at all. There is this reality with which we’re dealing that causes us to prepare ourselves for these conditions for next year.’ On the downside, he said, ‘There is no question that five furlough days will not be enough and a 160-day calendar or less may have to be looked at.’ While he expects the school system to hold the line through the next two years, eventually positions will have to be eliminated or combined, athletics will be trimmed as will all extra- and co-curricular activities, transportation routes will be redrawn, contracts with outside agencies will be terminated and employees will see the freezing of salaries and all pay. ’When businesses come, housing and the economy take an upturn and tax revenues flow from these very likely scenarios, then we need to adjust accordingly by helping our tax payers, rewarding employees and restoring the fund balance for another potential stormy day,’ Truby said. Through the departure of personnel and no replacements from the outside the schools will save $500,000 and the five furlough days will save $380,000. Outsourcing custodial services or the equivalent will save about $100,000. Redesigning some programs can save us about $200,000 and the schools are counting on at least $200,000 in tax revenues from Piedmont Power. A few small things to cut costs will yield $30,000 for a total of $1,535,000 in savings. However, the total deficit is $2,795,100 without the millage hike. With it, and another$1,260,100 taken from the fund balance will leave the school system with $3,407,000 at the end of June 2014. ’The reserves aren’t expected to last two years,’ he said. ‘To say education in general, and more specifically in Georgia, is under fire, water, scrutiny, red and black ink, is an understatement. Our board of education has been focused on making sure the taxes for our system were used well and appropriately with sensitivity to the economy and personnel conditions.’

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