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City school board adopts 2009 budget
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After months of wrestling with figures, the Gainesville City Board of Education finally approved a budget for this fiscal year.

In a 4-1 vote, with board member Sammy Smith dissenting, the board approved a budget Monday night that would pay off about $1.7 million toward the system’s estimated $5.6 million deficit by June 30.

The board based its final budget numbers on a pending 12 percent property tax increase.

David Syfan, chairman of the school board, said the property tax increase strikes a compromise between being a good steward of both the school system and taxpayers.

Smith said he did not approve the budget because the numbers were "faulty" in the sense that they did not include "what we know is coming from the governor."

Because of shortfalls in state revenue, Gov. Sonny Perdue recently ordered that all school districts receive 2 percent less state funding this fiscal year, which began July 1.

Merrianne Dyer, interim superintendent for Gainesville city schools, said the state cuts translate to about $650,000 less for the Gainesville school system this year. Further, cuts in charter school district grants also are pending for the district.

Janet Allison, director of finance for Gainesville city schools, said the state cuts could slow the board’s plan to pay off the deficit from two years to possibly four.

"Additionally, I have a concern about the anticipated tax collection rate," Smith said.

The board used a 95 percent collection rate to estimate its property tax revenue for fiscal year 2009.

Based on a 7.42 maintenance and operation millage, or tax rate, the board approved a budget that estimates general fund revenue for fiscal year 2009 to be $54,483,881.

Estimated expenditures for the final budget are $52,737,899.

According to the approved budget, the remaining revenue will be applied to the estimated $5.6 million deficit as determined on June 30.

As approved in the budget, by June 30, 2009, the board would have a deficit of $3,854,018.

On top of the proposed 7.42 maintenance and operation millage, which the board could raise from the current rate of 6.62 mills in October, there is a 0.39 debt service millage. Currently, the board is considering a total millage of 7.81 mills, up from the current 6.96 millage.

One mill equals $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. If a 7.81 millage is adopted, the owner of a $183,000 home, the median home price in Gainesville, would pay $156.23 in additional property tax this fall.

Todd Evans, a parent of two students in the Gainesville City School System, said he feels comfortable the board is working with a budget that is not directly compromising his children’s education.

"It’s an end and a beginning all in the same," Evans said. "I think it’s a workable budget that we can work with, and if we can’t, then we’ll have to come back to the table."

Syfan and Smith said the final budget, although approved, is still a work in progress. Budget amendments may have to be made throughout the fiscal year as the state slashes funds for local districts.

As part of its deficit reduction plan, the board will continue to submit monthly spending resolutions to the state Department of Education.