Cuts could boost taxes in Columbia County

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Columbia County school officials expect to lose about $4.5 million in state funding after the latest round of budget cuts, and several said Wednesday they wouldn't rule out a county tax increase.

On Tuesday, Gov. Sonny Perdue ordered a 3 percent funding cut for public schools and said he is eliminating funding equivalent to three unpaid furlough days for teachers. Those cuts and others are needed to make up a $900 million shortfall in state revenues, he said, and local schools are weighing their options.

"I don't think anything is off the table yet," said school trustee Mike Sleeper.

"We're not going to rule anything out as a possibility right now, but I'm hoping we won't raise the millage," board member Roxanne Whitaker said.

Board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco said Wednesday that she would not support a property tax increase.

Board member Mildred Blackburn said she didn't know what she would do, and trustee Wayne Bridges did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

IN RICHMOND COUNTY there are even fewer options. Last week school board members locked themselves into a decision not to raise taxes, aware the governor might make the decision he made this week.

By setting the tentative millage at the same level as last year, the board is now unable to raise the rate to offset the new cuts. It can only lower the rate or keep it at the same level when it meets next week for a final millage adoption.

"I don't regret what I did," board Vice President Alex Howard said Wednesday.

Mr. Howard said it was tough voting against a tax increase, but he stands by it, knowing that property owners have seen taxes increase considerably over the past few years and that the economy is already stretching families' finances thin.

Richmond County Superintendent Dana Bedden presented the board with five options. In a 5-4 vote, the board approved keeping the millage the same, the lowest rate of the five scenarios presented. If the board raised taxes to the cap, it would have generated about $3.4 million in additional tax revenue and cost an extra $39.13 on a $100,000 house.

An initial vote last week failed 4-5 to raise taxes $8.93 on a $100,000 home. That would have balanced the budget at the time.

"I couldn't go beyond that as far as asking for more," board member Helen Minchew said of her decision not to raise taxes. "Even if we went to the cap, that wasn't enough."

Mrs. Minchew said she couldn't in good conscience vote for higher taxes when everyone is struggling to make ends meet.

"You can't just hit people for more when they're down," she said. "There just isn't enough money."

COLUMBIA COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT Charles Nagle said he believes he can find other means to compensate for the state cuts without resorting to raising taxes.

Mr. Nagle said he believes he and his staff can cut as much as $1.5 million from the current budget and recover the remainder of the $3 million shortfall by dipping into the school system's reserve fund of about $26 million, though he is reluctant to do so.

"You can't keep taking out of savings to make ends meet, but that's better than raising taxes at this point," he said.

Another priority for the superintendent is resetting the school calendar prior to the Aug. 10 start date to include teacher furloughs. By eliminating pre-planning days and staff development days from the school calender, Mr. Nagle said the school system can meet the furlough requirement without interrupting instructional time.

Already school officials have eliminated more than 100 positions to save money. Nearly 70 teaching and paraprofessional positions were cut.

Mr. Nagle said he will present options for budget cuts and a new school calender to the board at a Tuesday meeting.

Staff writer Greg Gelpi contributed to this story.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (11) Add comment
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justus4
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justus4 07/23/09 - 02:18 am
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The story starts with
Unpublished

The story starts with Columbia County's approach to its budget problems, then quickly turns to RCBOE and their ideas to shortfall budgets and proposed solutions. Why the comparison? A recent article (yesterday) covering RCBOE's budget problems didn't attempt to make a comparison, just some batted about ideas-but no comparisons. Conclusion: The author should avoid making comparisons when the article's title is inconsistent with its contents. Stay focus...

Riverman1
93324
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Riverman1 07/23/09 - 06:38 am
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Downturns in the economy mean

Downturns in the economy mean people have less money. Lower state revenue is a result of the economy. The answer for the county is not to tax people who have less money even more. If we even think of raising taxes, we are falling prey to the faulty logic represented at the national level of spending more instead of cutting back. If the money is not there, we simply have to cut back on spending. I realize that's not easy, but for the long run, there's no other solution.

Little Lamb
48881
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Little Lamb 07/23/09 - 06:55 am
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Raising taxes in an economic

Raising taxes in an economic downturn only makes the downturn last longer. The solution is not higher taxes. The solution is to become more efficient in the BOE offices and schools. Layoffs is a good answer.

elemtchr
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elemtchr 07/23/09 - 07:16 am
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I would not miss having staff

I would not miss having staff development days cut this year. Add another day to fall or winter break and I think teachers would be pleased. If you spread the furlough days out, it doesn't hurt as much since it comes out pre tax.

Riverman1
93324
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Riverman1 07/23/09 - 07:47 am
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Nagle could actually make the

Nagle could actually make the teachers work those three days and simply reduce their yearly salary by the percentage the days represent. Thus they would be "paid' for those days.

up2nogood
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up2nogood 07/23/09 - 08:09 am
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I agree with Justus. How come

I agree with Justus. How come whenever this is an article pertaining to Columbia County, a Richmond County angle is always included? Yet, I read articles about Richmond County that often don't include the Columbia County side, or Aiken County.

Mr. Thackeray
957
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Mr. Thackeray 07/23/09 - 08:13 am
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Cut ADMINISTRATORS don’t rate

Cut ADMINISTRATORS don’t rate the tax rate. The bloated bureaucracy in CCBOE and all school districts is ridiculous. Teachers teach, but administrators, what do they really do save get in the way?

12
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12 07/23/09 - 08:37 am
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Mr. Thackeray, I respectfully

Mr. Thackeray, I respectfully disagree with your idea of administrators being nonessential. As an educator, my relationship with the administrators in my building (and at the county level) is critical to my success. I lean on them for support when needed with instruction and discipline. Unless you are an educator and can understand from that perspective the structure of the organization, your judgement of administrative positions being ridiculous is dismissed as a rant from someone who only wants the best for themselves (i.e.- tax rate frozen).

Little Lamb
48881
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Little Lamb 07/23/09 - 09:17 am
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This could become a cycle.

This could become a cycle. State tax collections are down, so cut the pay of state workers (furloughs). The reduced pay of state workers reduces tax collections even further, so order more furloughs. And so on and so on. Pretty soon we'll discover that society survives without so many days of state government work, and that we can get by with less pay.

Riverman1
93324
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Riverman1 07/23/09 - 11:28 am
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LL...zactly

LL...zactly

resident
501
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resident 07/23/09 - 02:44 pm
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12, I understand some

12, I understand some administrator positions but I still think they have too much of this type of people. There is also savings that be obtained by not going back in August the hottest month of the year. Save some cost there. Save some cost also by locking the thermostat in the classrooms instead of letting the teachers change it ay time they want (I witnessed this many times). Change busses to Propane gas like they do up north, much cheaper than Diesel and they can be retrofitted with those kits. Cut back on paying for sports trips make the booster club ay for the fuel costs and the bus drivers. Safety patrol officers can be cut, up north they have oversight from the principal and the students do it. There are ways to save just the schhols don't want to hear it, How about solar panels, use High school shop students build as graded items, good for environment, and good for school revenue/savings.

Riverman1
93324
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Riverman1 07/23/09 - 05:23 pm
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I truly believe there is

I truly believe there is little waste with Columbia County administrators. If you go to the website and check, there are not that many people at the central office. Realize federal rules almost mandate that you have certain positions to handle the required tasks. I'm often at odds with them, but they stay busy. The salaries of Nagle and the associates are lower than Richmond and most counties in the CSRA. If they would only realize cutting spending is the only solution in these economic times, I'd praise them even more. They haven't quite got that yet.

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