A property tax increase for Richmond County homeowners might be unavoidable, according to school board President Marion Barnes.
"Personally, I don't see where we're going to be able to balance that budget without a slight tax increase," he said.
Barnes said a decision could come as soon as Tuesday's budget hearing, where board members will again take up a couple of options that staff have posed: having workers take eight furlough days and reducing 35 positions through attrition; or having six furlough days, the 35 job cuts through attrition and an increase in the tax rate.
"Hopefully we can settle that Tuesday so people will know what's going on," Barnes said.
The options are in response to continued state funding cuts. The school system faces a revenue downfall of $16.7 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, and the board has until mid-June to approve its budget.
Board member Jack Padgett has said that to provide some flexibility he would favor having eight furlough days and going to the cap in property tax. He has said that should conditions later improve, some furlough days could then be given back to workers.
The board has already decided that whichever number of furloughs is chosen, half would come by reducing teachers' contracted work days, meaning they wouldn't have to pay their retirement contributions on those days.
Under the tax increase being proposed, the owner of a $100,000 house would pay an extra $29.89 a year, or $2.49 more a month.
Board member Barbara Pulliam said she has mentioned the possibility of the tax increase in some recent community meetings, and "it seemed like the majority of them are saying it might be needed."
She said many seem to understand that the increase wouldn't be large. On the other hand, she said, "You've got some folks, of course, that wouldn't want to pay a penny more."
Pulliam said she hasn't decided how she'll vote on the tax issue.
Board member Frank Dolan, though, stated in an e-mail that "I am totally opposed to an ad valorem tax increase."
Dolan said that as a board member and small-business owner, he sees both sides of the issue. He noted that there are about 300 employees in the Board of Education central office, 40 workers in the Title 1 department "and another 150 more or less who never see a student."
"No one today knows the proper amount of money necessary to run the R.C.S.B. at an optimum level," he stated. "However, one may correctly assume the automatic answer is not to just raise ad valorem taxes ... The days of a never-ending tax source at the expense of our constituents for a bloated bureaucracy is over.
"We do not need a tax increase in Augusta," Dolan continued. "The school system needs to work with our state government to become more competitive in attracting large businesses to our area."
Messages left for other board members were not immediately returned.
Going to the tax cap, which would be a millage increase of 0.854, would bring the school system an extra $2.1 million.
The school system's funding is 57 percent state, 30 percent local and 13 percent federal. The state share has diminished 3 percent since 2007, and the local percentage has grown 3 percent in that time.