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Wheeler County BOE Adopts $12M Budget; Delays Setting Millage

The Wheeler County Board of Education approved an FY 2021-2022 budget of $12 million during its regular September session, but was unable to set the millage because of pending appeals to the county tax digest. The board plans to call a meeting in October to set the millage, provided the tax appeal issue has been worked out. Wheeler County Tax Commissioner Kim Clark explained that Core Civic, which operates a medium security prison in the county, has appealed its 2020 tax assessment. Core Civic occupies properties in the city of Alamo and in the county and paid over $80 million in taxes last year. The taxes paid by Core Civic, the county’s largest employer, account for about 45% of the county’s digest. A reassessment is scheduled this week which, hopefully, will resolve the issue, Clark said, but in the meantime her office cannot generate tax bills or sell vehicle tags until the millage is set. “If this is not resolved, we will have to get a temporary collection order from a judge just to sell tags for persons whose tags expire in January. Then, we may have to issue refunds based on the millage rate and property values,” she said.

The school board’s $12, 041,943 budget includes $6.8 million for employee salaries and $2.9 million for benefits.

Superintendent Suzanne Couey updated the board on finances connected with the current SPLOST fund, which retires in March 2021. Monies from the current five-year sales tax cannot be used on new construction. Couey said that bus facility and Pre-K renovation projects were not included in the original budget for the new K-12 school, but funds from the current SPLOST can be used for these projects. The current bus facility will need to be demolished to prepare the construction site for the new school, but a warehouse owned by the BOE is being renovated to serve as the new bus facility. The district is also planning to move Pre-K students to the K-12 campus so all Wheeler County students will be located on one site. Any renovations to current structures for Pre-K can be funded by the current SPLOST. Furnishings, technology, and equipment for new construction projects can be funded through the current SPLOST, as well.

In updating the board on the bond fund for the new K-12 school complex expected to be started in early 2021, Couey said $850,000 had been earned from bond premiums and a total of $7,850,000 has been deposited into the bond fund. Approximately $30.5 million has been approved by the state for reimbursements to the local system for the construction project. Architects for the project have been paid $880,000, about half of their fee. Couey expressed complete confidence in the architectural firm based on its performance so far, most recently in making efficient, cost-saving modifications to the building design. “We absolutely chose the right architects,” she said.

The next step is getting information to contractors for the bid process, with bid submissions expected on October 28.

In other business, Couey advised the board that COVID updates are being issued by the system every Friday and are posted on the system web site. So far, COVID impact has been manageable and minimal, with remote learning for quarantined students going well due to close supervision by instructors. “The bottom line is to give our students the best education we can. Nothing is easy this year,” Couey said.

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