The Rev. Christopher Johnson understands the school system is suffering. He has heard about the state funding cuts and crippling expenses.
Despite the troubles, he said raising property taxes as the Board of Education has proposed will only worsen the problem by discouraging people from living in the county, hurting the tax base.
“We don’t want our taxes raised at all, period,” Johnson said. “In bad economic times, we cannot afford to be raising taxes ...We’re asking you to consider going back to the trough again and try and see what you can come up with before raising these taxes.”
About a dozen parents and citizens protested with signs and chants outside the Richmond County Board of Education on Wednesday during a public hearing held to hear concerns about the proposed tax hike. The board is set to raise the millage rate .98 mills to 19.982, which would mean a $30 tax increase on a home valued at $100,000 for a total of $699 in school taxes per year.
Board members responded by ensuring they have cut all they could before turning to the wallets of the public. The school system has seen more than $150 million cut in state funding over the last 10 years and is set to pay $1.8 million more in health insurance for noncertified employees this year.
The 2013-14 budget approved in June included nine furlough days, the elimination of 135 positions and the tax increase to make up for the losses.
“We are simply coming to the public for assistance to help us run this school system efficiently and try to keep as many individuals employed as possible,” Superintendent Frank Roberson said.
Still, residents argued the board is raising taxes at a time when results are not being seen and services aren’t there – such as transportation for alternative program students.
“Taxes are one thing, if you’ve got to do it, fine,” said Rico Jackson, president of Barton Chapel Progressive Association. “But I’m concerned about these kids getting to school. If you raise the taxes, raise the service.”
Board President Venus Cain said her colleagues have done all they can.
“We have cut everywhere, but (you) stand here in front of the board saying ‘You all are wasting money,’ ” Cain said.