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City, schools unite against tax reform plan

POSTED: November 3, 2007 5:04 a.m.

GAINESVILLE — Gainesville City Council and the city school board discussed working together to keep House Resolution 900 from making it to a statewide referendum.

City Manager Bryan Shuler made a presentation on House Resolution 900, introduced to the General Assembly by Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson, who nicknamed it the "GREAT" plan, and told members of the Gainesville Board of Education that the proposed tax reform plan would be detrimental to the Gainesville school system.

Shuler said the school board had a stake in making sure that HR900 did not make it to a referendum.

Shuler said he had looked at the past four years of the school board’s Quality Basic Education formula reports, and those alone showed that the state was not giving the city schools the funding they needed.

"You all have been living with significant portions of your revenue coming from the state ..." Shuler said. "The difference between what you should have received and what you actually received was over 4 million dollars."

City school board member Frank Harben, who said he had spent time lobbying at the state Capitol, agreed with Shuler’s argument that
the city did not want to lose control of its own funding.

"Down there it’s partisan, it’s power, and nobody wants to step on Glenn Richardson’s toes, because he’s going to hurt you," Harben said.

"(State legislators are) not concerned about Gainesville," Harben said. "They’re concerned about the next election, and who’s going to be in power."

Harben said the strongest argument against Richardson’s plan was emphasizing the power of local control.

Lee Highsmith, chair of the city school board, echoed Harben’s concerns that the state legislators may not have Gainesville’s best interests at hand when doling out tax allowances.

"When SPLOST first came into being, and we weren’t getting our money from the state, (state officials) couldn’t figure out where it went and how to divide it up," Highsmith said. "And that was just one cent."

Highsmith expressed other concerns that economic downturns could damage the school systems if they rely on sales taxes for funding.

"What if this drought causes severe problems in Gainesville?" Highsmith said. "Then how do we fund education?"

Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras asked the members of the Board of Education how they could help educate Gainesville residents about the disadvantages of HR900. She asked that they work with the Parent-Teacher Association to educate parents and teachers before the bill goes to a statewide referendum.

Councilwoman Ruth Bruner said local officials should get the message out before the question goes out to voters, because the question on the ballot may be deceiving to voters who do not like paying their property taxes.

"It needs to be defeated before it makes it out of the legislature," Bruner said.

Shuler made a similar point.

"The only question that is going to go to the voters is ‘do you want to repeal property taxes?’" Shuler told the school board. "All the details will be done statutorily through the legislature."

Shuler encouraged the school board to pass a resolution opposing Richardson’s tax plan, but said they should talk to their constituents to make them understand the significance of the issue.

"We’re a growing community, we’re not likely stop growing, but our revenues could stop growing to help meet the service demands of our growing population," Shuler said.

Shuler and Harben both said it would be better to promote a better tax plan than it would be to simply say Richardson’s plan was a bad one.

"If you suggest an alternative plan ... we could make our case that way," Harben said.

The council and the school board did not vote on a plan of action, but agreed to wait until they heard more about the details of the plan from state officials in November.



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