Columbia County trustees vote to raise taxes

County faces $7.6 million budget shortfall

The Columbia County Board of Education voted Tuesday to raise taxes to help make up a $7.6 million budget deficit without employee furloughs.

The school board voted 4-1, with trustee Mike Sleeper objecting, to approve a $178.8 million budget for next school year that includes a half-mill increase on property taxes.

Sleeper favored a combination of tax increase and furloughs.

"I find it difficult to go to our community to shoulder this" when many of them also have suffered salary cuts or layoffs, he said.

A half-mill increase represents about $24 more on the tax bill of a $100,000 home. It will generate about $1.9 million in new revenue.

Employees would have had to be furloughed about three days to equal that amount, according to school system figures.

The board also voted to delay the purchase of textbooks for at least a year, to cut from the schools' instructional spending, eliminate a $950,000 payroll contingency fund used in case growth necessitates hiring more teachers, and dip into the school system's $26 million reserve fund.

School officials' fiscal maneuvering also assumes the system will get at least $1 million at the midyear adjustment, when school systems can get more funding based on student population growth.

Tuesday's vote was just the first on the budget. The board is set to formally adopt it when it meets June 14, and it likely will set the new millage July 19.

Public hearings on the tax increase will be held at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. July 12 and 8 a.m. July 19.

In other action

- The school board adopted a new calendar for pre-kindergarten courses. Sept. 6 was set as the start date for pre-k, which was shortened to 160 days. All other grades will start classes Aug. 8.

- Officials released the results of the Georgia High School Graduation and Writing Tests. A higher percentage of Columbia County students passed every section of the GHSGT this year compared with last year, except in math. The 2011 scores showed that 95 percent met standards in language arts, 1 percent more than in 2010; 95 percent in math, 1 percent less than last year; 90 percent in social studies, 2 percent more; 97 percent in science, 1 percent more; and 98 percent in writing, 3 percent more.

- The board purchased 15 acres on Gibbs Road for $600,000. The land will become the site of a new Evans Elementary School. The project is part of the $118 million 1-percent sales tax package voters approved in 2010. Nagle said he hopes to open the new school by August 2012.

- Assistant Superintendent Jeff Carney resigned Tuesday to become the next superintendent for the Lincoln County school system. He will replace retiring Superintendent Randall Edmunds. Carney has been with the Columbia County school system for 22 years. Before his promotion to the central office last year, he was the principal of Lakeside High School.