Columbia County continues to study tax cut as school board looks to cut expenses

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 3:18 PM
Last updated 11:17 PM
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While Columbia County school officials struggle to cut expenses, county government officials are considering cutting taxes.

School officials said Tuesday they intend to overcome a nearly $1 million budget deficit without furloughing teachers.

In a preliminary $173 million budget for next school year, which had to make up a $13 million cut in state funding, Superintendent Charles Nagle told the school board that the system is about $993,000 short.

Nagle said he believes his staff can find cuts to balance the budget without furloughs.

The board voted in March to cut about 35 educator positions and nearly 70 teacher aides to save about $5 million in personnel costs.

Some of those position cuts were made possible by increasing class sizes by as many as three students per class next school year.

School officials also are expecting as much as 2.5 percent growth in the county’s tax digest to overcome some of the funding losses.

Nagle said his staff will seek cuts in maintenance, fuel and other areas to avoid furloughs. Officials also might pull $6.2 million out of a reserve fund.

Significant savings might come from Georgia Power Co., Nagle said.

He said the energy company informed him that the school system might receive a 19 percent drop in energy costs to save about $780,000 on power bills for the 2012-13 school year.

“I believe this is the tightest budget in my 14 years on the board,” Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco said.

Still, Nagle said he believes it is prudent to set aside three potential furlough days in case they are needed.

Also at a meeting Tuesday, county government officials considered a half-mill rollback of the tax rate during discussions of next fiscal year’s $55.9 million proposed budget.

The cut would be to the portion of the 9.137 millage rate earmarked for paying off debt. County Finance Services Director Leanne Reece proposed that commissioners cut the debt mill rate from 0.654 to 0.154.

Reece told commissioners that four construction projects funded with a 2007 bond came in under budget. Coupled with 1 percent sales tax revenues, Reece said, the excess bond funds can cover next year’s debt payments.

The 2012-13 general fund budget as proposed is a 1.56 percent increase over this year, but officials said they can make for it with an expected 2 percent growth in the tax digest.

Officials will further discuss the budget May 15 before voting on it June 5.

The school board might also meet May 15 to further discuss its budget. It is likely it will be approved June 12.


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