Members of the Hall County school board approved a 2017-18 fiscal year budget that includes more than $12 million in new spending while setting a tax millage rate a little lower than it was in the previous year.
Among the highlights of the budget approved Monday night are:
• A 2.5 percent pay increase for all of the district’s approximately 3,400 employees
• An increase in money spent for teacher retirement benefits and health insurance premiums for non-teachers
• An additional $102,796 is budgeted for 1.5 teacher positions that are being added for the English language learners program
• $50,000 for efforts to keep drugs out of the school district, including an estimated $15,000 for the purchase of a drug-sniffing dog trained to find drugs in schools
• A general fund budget of $265.15 million and a total budget of $371.4 million, which includes all funds for all programs coming into the district
The budget also drops the tax rate from 18.8 mills to 18.5 mills, but would still be a increase for some taxpayers who saw their property reassessment go up in 2017. The value of property subject to Hall County school taxes increased by 5.61 percent, according to Jonathan Boykin, finance officer for the school district.
School officials have said the school district will collect 2.33 percent more taxes than it would under the rollback rate.
The rollback rate is computed as the tax rate that would produce the same total revenue as the current year had there not been a reassessment. The rollback rate for school taxes for 2017 is 18.079 mills. While the tax rate is lower than the current millage rate, it is .421 mills higher than the rollback rate.
The millage rate equals $1 of taxes on every $1,000 of taxable value. Properties in Hall County are assessed at 40 percent of their value for tax purposes. For instance, a home worth $100,000 would pay $740 in school taxes under the proposed millage rate.
The board held three public hearings on the budget this month — including two Monday. Only one person, state Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, spoke at any of the hearings. Hawkins addressed concerns that state mandates were causing difficulty for local districts. He pointed to money given to local districts by the state.
“We are for you; we’re not against you,” Hawkins told the board at Monday morning’s meeting. “Some of the folks sitting on this board are some of my best friends, and I’ve had children go through this system. Education is very important to me. I have done everything I can down at the capitol, being in appropriations, to support our school systems.”
He added health care and other needs are making it more difficult for the state to cover all of the areas it needs to in the budget.
“(Education) costs keep going up and I realize that, and I’m not saying that it’s your fault,” he said. “But I want you to know that it’s not our fault, either.”