Board votes against raising tax

A Thursday vote by the Richmond County school board spared taxpayers, but it might cost some district employees their jobs.

Rolling the dice, the board tentatively decided not to raise taxes, creating a $1 million budget shortfall and gambling that the hole won't get bigger.

The vote narrowly passed 5-4 during a special meeting Thursday, minutes after a vote failed 4-5 to balance the budget through a small tax increase.

The 5-4 vote means Superintendent Dana Bedden will be making at least another $1 million in cuts, which he said would likely be a "combination of things to spread the pain." That includes layoffs, furloughs and charging fees for services. Last month, the board cut $24.5 million.

The latest shortfall, though, is a conservative estimate based on the state not cutting additional funding as revenues continue double-digit declines.

"We're going to get some cuts," board member Jack Padgett said. "No one knows how much they're going to be."

State Rep. Quincy Murphy, the head of the Augusta legislative delegation, agrees those cuts could be coming.

"It's a grave situation, very grave," Mr. Murphy told The Augusta Chronicle . "If (state) revenues continue to go in the direction they are going, there will be more cuts (of school appropriations)."

Dr. Bedden told board members the financial squeeze is the result of several factors, including both the school system's dependence on the state and federal government for most of its funding and generous property tax exemptions granted to some segments of taxpayers.

"It may have been a good idea at the time," he said. "What we've done is a tax shift."

In less than two years, Dr. Bedden said he has cut more than $50 million.

A meeting has been called for 3 p.m. July 31 to give final approval. The board isn't required to hold public hearings on the millage because it isn't trying to raise taxes.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

HOW THEY VOTED

Five Richmond County school board members voted "yes" to maintain the tax rate during a special meeting Thursday.

Jimmy Atkins -- Absent

Marion Barnes -- No

Venus Cain -- No

Eloise Curtis -- No

Frank Dolan -- Yes

Alex Howard -- Yes

Helen Minchew -- Yes

Jack Padgett -- No

Barbara Pulliam -- Yes

Joe Scott -- Yes