County Budget Committee Votes to Recommend Passage of Amended Spending Plan for Schools

August 17, 2007
Dwayne Page

The county budget committee met Monday night and voted to recommend approval of the revised school budget to the DeKalb County Commission.

The new budget is expected to be adopted Monday night.

Members of the school board are concerned that the county commission plans on cutting the local property tax for schools by sixteen cents from 73 cents to 57 cents per $100 of assessed value, but County Mayor Mike Foster says the county is more than adequately funding schools with a combination of money from local property taxes and the local option sales tax fund.

Some claim they were under the impression that the entire sales tax increase, as approved by the voters in the May referendum, would immediately go directly to schools, in addition to the current property tax rate for schools, but Foster claims that was never the case. While the exact amount of the tax cut to schools wasn't made specific before the sales tax referendum, Foster insists that it was explained to the public that property tax payers would be getting an overall 19 or 20 cent property tax break, with the passage of the sales tax referendum. "You will see that the school property tax rate (57 cents) is lower than the general fund (62 cents) and other parts of the budget. The reason for that is almost two million dollars is coming out of the sales tax fund and going to the schools. That was the intent. It was the design that the sales tax would take the place of part of the property tax rate for schools. We made that clear in the meetings and when it (referendum) was voted on and that's exactly what has been done. That's why you've seen a decrease of sixteen cents in the property tax rate for schools, but you've seen the sales tax (for schools) go up to almost two million dollars rather than $1.1 million. Even though there was a cut in the current property tax rate of sixteen cents, which actually cut $505,000 or thereabouts from the current property taxes for schools, there was an increase in the local purpose tax (sales tax) of $588,000 to schools, so there was a net increase of about $80,000 to the funds that they (schools) actually received. As far as actual dollars, the maintenance of effort was increased by $45,000 and according to the schools, it was increased by $36,063 but there was still an increase in the maintenance of effort, as there has been for many years."

Under state law, county governments cannot fund schools at fewer local dollars than the previous year. That requirement is referred to as "maintenance of effort".

Foster insists that local tax dollars earmarked for the school's debt service should also be taken into consideration. "Debt service for the schools is $678, 747. A lot of that is for the Northside Elementary School, for the roof at Smithville Elementary School, and some other things. A total of $403,000 is coming from the local purpose tax fund (sales tax) and a little over $275,000 is coming from the (debt service) property tax which equates to eight cents more for schools. It's not really counted toward schools because it's in debt service, but no matter how you count it, the schools are still getting the eight more cents, plus the 57 cents, plus the local option sales tax. To put it in very simple terms, if you have a bucket of money over here and a bucket of money over there, and you have the school's money in the middle bucket, it doesn't matter which bucket the money comes out of, they (schools) are getting what their asking for and their actually getting $80,000 more. Property tax (for schools) was cut but the local purpose tax fund (sales tax money) was increased for schools. According to the whole equation, they (schools) are winding up getting $45,000 more and their numbers say $36,063 more."

The DeKalb County Board of Education last Thursday night adopted a revised school budget for the 2007-2008 this fiscal year, making $113,274 in cuts from the previous proposed budget passed on June 26th.

The proposed cuts will be made in the categories of legal services- $15,000, liability insurance- $18,694, workman's compensation insurance- $45,280, natural gas- $16,800, building and contents insurance- $10,000, diesel fuel- $5,000, and vehicle and equipment insurance- $2,500.

Funds for proposed pay raises for school system employees and new positions will not be cut.

The spending plan for schools is more than seventeen million dollars.

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