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Gainesville school board lowers tax rate slightly
Rate to go down 0.3 mills
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Gainesville taxpayers will have a little less of a load this year.

The city Board of Education tentatively adopted its fiscal year 2012 millage rate at a called meeting Tuesday. The millage rate is 7.39 mills, which is 0.3 mills less than the 2011 rate.

Janet Allison, chief financial officer for the school board, said the reduction in millage will save taxpayers about $30 on a $100,000 house.

The board will officially adopt the millage rate on Sept. 19, Allison said.

“The recommendation for eliminating the debt millage has no correlation to reduced work days,” board member Sammy
Smith said.

The operations and maintenance millage is 7.39 and the school debt millage is zero, as the board paid off its debt in January.

The bonds the school board plans to take out in October will be repaid by special local option sales tax money and not by ad valorem taxes.

Allison praised the city taxpayers during the discussion on millage, saying the board is collecting between 97 and 98 percent of taxes levied.

“I think we’re doing a good job of keeping us in the black and controlling our expenses, but what if someone comes up to us and says, ‘Gosh, you’ve got that huge surplus, why can’t you do a further millage reduction?’” board member David Syfan said. “If we cut our surplus in half this year, you’re only going into next year with $3 million and you might have to cut it in half again. You have to think about what we’re going to do next year.”

Allison said there were rumors the school board could see cuts from the state, but as of now the board should end this fiscal year with a $3 million surplus.

No conclusion to the redistricting problem has yet been found, but the Gainesville City Council and Board of Education took some steps forward at Tuesday’s meeting.

Board members also sat down with City Council members Ruth Bruner, George Wangemann and Robert Hamrick to review the two proposed redistricting maps. After a lengthy discussion, the school board decided to endorse map three, which had been designed after a called board meeting Aug. 4.

Map two was designed by the City Council, but board members felt the map did not maintain the integrity of established districts.

Though map two complies with the Voting Rights Act concerns and the “one person, one vote” issue, school board attorney Phil Hartley said it had many changes in the districts voters would be in. He said map three, which addresses the voter confusion, also complies with both legal requirements. He said both maps, whether the board and council present the same map or different ones, would be able to be approved by the Department of Justice.

Concerns voiced during the meeting included further population growth in Ward 4, minority population votes and keeping redistricting a local decision.

“Unfortunately despite best interests and oftentimes what is obvious, the redistricting must start at the beginning of a decade and last a decade, but the law does not allow for growth projections,” Smith said. “Our best efforts are going to be based on current population.”

Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said it was possible for a mid-cycle redistricting if this projected growth occurred.

“It seems to me that map two sort of fragments the city,” Hamrick said. “Map three is more as it’s been and as people are accustomed to. People are familiar with the voting places.”

Wangemann said he wished redistricting “was as color blind as our constitution is,” but said a main concern of his was to keep the legislature from drawing the map.

“They can barely draw their own, I can’t imagine what they’d do to ours,” he said.
All three City Council members present said the board’s proposed map was a suitable alternative to their own.

“I’m OK with map number three,” Wangemann said. “Unless someone from our side presents a compelling reason to accept only map two, I can go with map three.”

Bruner said the City Council prefers to have one redistricting map instead of two, a solution Smith proposed at the Aug. 4 meeting. Council members are elected citywide but board members are only elected within their district.

“I want to see us, if we can, have a unified front,” Bruner said.

The City Council will vote on a map at its Sept. 6 meeting.