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Gainesville schools cut tax rate, not taxes
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Gainesville city schools’ tax rate is dropping 11 percent — good news for residents whose property values dropped, remained the same or went up just slightly as part of widespread reassessments.

The Gainesville City Board of Education voted Monday to drop the tax rate from 7.83 mills to 6.96 mills, or to the rate at which higher reassessments overall would not increase tax revenues.

One mill is equal to $1 per $1,000 in assessed property value.

"My reassessment went through the roof," said board member Frank Harben during a public hearing on the matter. "I’m still going to pay more taxes next year."

Harben was addressing questions raised by city property owner Jean Peeples, who said her property value went up by $40,000.

"That’s the heart of the unfairness. You and I are going to make up for someone paying less (in taxes)," he said.

The board voted on the new rate a couple of hours after holding the third and final required public hearing on the rate.

The hearings were held because the board had voted tentatively to keep the tax rate the same over last year.

But because that rate, through reassessments, would generate extra cash for the city, state law required that the city hold three public hearings before giving final approval.

At Monday night’s hearing, school board candidate Sammy Smith, who is facing Eric Oliver for the seat being vacated Dec. 31 by Harben, asked the board to approve a "revenue-neutral" millage.

Gainesville resident Steven Wang said that approving a tax rate above the recommended rollback might "add steam" to talk in the state of abolishing property taxes in favor of an increased sales-tax rate as a revenue source.

House Speaker Glenn Richardson, a Hiram Republican, particularly has advocated that change.

Wang said he believes such a switch in the way revenue is generated would be an "absolute disaster" for local governments.

"This is not a climate you want to further destabilize, by turning home folks against the (current taxing) system," he said.

Board member David Syfan said by completely rolling back the rate, "I worry about how low our carryover is," referring to the amount of unspent and unearmarked money from the 2006-07 budget that goes toward the 2007-08 budget.

He also said he is concerned about how the system will save to equip the new Gainesville Middle School and Mundy Mill Academy, which are set to open in the fall of 2009.

"I guess that’s why you have future budgets, to deal with those kinds of things," Syfan said.