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Gainesville school board eyeing Aug. 18 for final budget OK

Property owners could see 12 percent hike in tax rate

POSTED: August 1, 2008 5:01 a.m.

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Having operated under a spending resolution since July 1, Gainesville school officials now expect to have a 2008-09 budget ready for final adoption at the regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Aug. 18.

Administrators also said at Monday night’s Gainesville City Board of Education meeting that they are proposing a tax rate of 7.81 mills, including 7.42 mills for maintenance and operation and .39 mills for bond debts.

That would represent a 12.21 percent increase over the current tax rate of 6.96 mills, or 6.62 mills for maintenance and operation and .34 mills for bond debts.

One mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. Not considering exemptions, the owner of a $150,000 home would see taxes increase from $1,044 to $1,171.50.

Officials still are working on a final spending amount in the next fiscal year, with the figure varying between $52 million and $52.4 million.

The school system began the fiscal year on July 1, but the school board put off approving a 2008-09 budget as it tried to deal with cutting expenses and a deficit estimated at $5.6 million as of June 30.

Interim Superintendent Merrianne Dyer spoke to that issue at Monday night’s meeting.

"Our system was broken," she said. "Our system of communication and putting in controls, monitoring our personnel and then there was spending ... on nonbudgeted personnel and capital improvements.

"And the financial data that you had that you were making decisions on, therefore, was inaccurate."

Chairman David Syfan said, "We sort of had to figure out what was broken and then we had to figure out how to fix it; we had to figure out what procedures to put in place so it will not happen again."

School officials agreed but didn’t elaborate on those internal measures.

The final tax rate likely would be approved sometime after the Aug. 18 meeting and after the system holds three public hearings that are required because of the proposed increase, said Janet Allison, chief financial officer.

Concerning the proposed budget, Dyer did say that school officials are recommending that the school system’s employee day care stay in place but that employees pay an additional $15 per week.

"We will ask that day care services be paid for through payroll deduction only," she said.

Also, while positions are being cut under the proposed spending plan, "people have not lost jobs," Dyer said after the meeting. "We have transferred people around. We are very fortunate not (to cut employees)."

Under the district’s two budget scenarios, the year-end surplus for fiscal 2008-09 could vary between $2.1 million and $2.6 million and those figures are based on the district getting a $1.56 million mid-year infusion from the state based on enrollment growth.

At best, the school system is looking at this point to whittle its deficit to about $3 million by June 30, 2009, according to a chart presented at Monday night’s meeting.

"The (state) Department of Education requires that school systems facing a budget deficit submit a budget that eliminates the debt as aggressively as possible," Dyer said.

"This proposed budget will meet (those requirements) at a minimal level of impact on taxpayers," she added. "The budget begins our pursuit of erasing or eliminating our debt ... in two years."



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