Toombs County BOE Adopts $45.5 Million Budget
Sets Millage Rate at 15.00 Mills
Following the third and final hearing on a proposed 6.91% increase to the local millage Thursday night, the Toombs County Board of Education adopted a $45.5 million FY 2021-2022 budget and set a millage rate of 15.00 mills. The overall budget includes federal, state and local funds. The board’s action resulted in an increase of .969 mills. Without this increase, the millage rate would have been no more than 14.031 mills, falling short of the system’s projected expenses for the upcoming school year. The proposed tax increase for a home with a fair market value of $100,000 is approximately $38.76 annually or $3.23 a month.
The budget was impacted by a 10% austerity reduction mandated by the state ($1.7 million) but off- set by a $1.1 million Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) allocation. The budget reflected a 2% employer reduction in Teachers Retirement System contributions and $375,000 in COVID-related expenses, including the purchase of personal protection equipment and emergency virtual continued from page
learning as schools interrupted their in-class instruction on March 19 due to the coronavirus.
The $45.5 million budget was $1.52 million less than last year, Superintendent Barry Waller explained. Compared to other systems, Toombs County’s millage rate ranks 153 out of 180 in Georgia and out of the poorest systems across the state, Toombs ranks 138 out of 180. He noted that the average millage rate in a 20-school area surrounding Toombs County is 14.850, and the county’s nearest neighbors have 15.00 millage rates.
“It is never good to raise property taxes, but students are our first priority,” Waller said. “Our responsibility is to prepare our students for the postsecondary experience.” As it is, STEM and construction education initiatives which were begun last term will not be going forward because of the loss of state funds.
In response to the COVID- 19 crisis and loss of revenue statewide, state entities, including all boards of education, were mandated to reduce FY 2021-2022 budgets by 10%. “We are boxed in,” Waller said of the tack the board had to take in making up the state revenue.
Waller said the $45.5 million budget is already earmarked, between salaries and programs. “Very little is deemed discretionary.” Every district has a 5 mill share offset with 5 mills automatically going to the state’s general budget. One mill equals approximately $375,000. Of the $45.5 budget, approximately $18 million comes from state funding and 85% of this is applied to salaries. “That does not cover all of the salaries. Local dollars make up the rest,” Waller explained. A handful of residents attended the hearing and some voiced opposition to the proposed tax increase. “I am sympathetic to your concerns and I am sorry if what we are doing offends you, but the students are my first priority,” said Board Vice-Chairman Russ Benton. Responding to appeals for senior exemptions and a one cent sales tax as ways to ease the tax burden or to make it more equitable, Waller explained that a senior exemption to ease the tax burden on those who no longer have children in school would require a legislative act rather than action by the school board. A referendum to impose an additional one cent sales tax would require a referendum which is a matter to bring before the Toombs County Commission. Waller, who voiced support for the concept of a sales tax as opposed to more property taxes, said the school board is “having to play the hand we are dealt within state and local guidelines.” A sales tax referendum (E-SPLOST 4) for the construction of the new high school complex expires this year. “We are paying off a $30 million high school in the span of six years,” Waller noted. A new referendum (ESPLOST 5) that was voted on and approved by 85% of the voters last year will begin when the previous referendum is retired. This new referendum will fund system-wide capital improvements and safety and security upgrades.
Bill Merritt, a retired employee for the Toombs County Schools, appealed to the board to “give property owners a break.” Merritt, a 74-year-old former coach, said, “The education of children is the most important thing going on but not everyone is paying for this education. Some people don’t own property. A sales tax is the fairest tax.”
Another citizen asked about out-of-county tuition as a means for offsetting expenses. Waller explained that the system does not currently charge a fee for out of county enrollments but uses criteria such as academic achievement, behavior and attendance for admitting out-of-county transfers, thus maintaining a standard of academic quality within the system.
The Toombs County Board of Education has not raised taxes since 2013. “We do not assess property and we can or cannot accept a rollback. My job is to do the best job I can for 3,000 students, “ Waller said.