The Hall County Schools Board of Education adopted its fiscal year 2012 budget Thursday afternoon, which included a 1.25 roll-up in the millage rate.
"It is the purpose of this budget to be a no-tax increase," Deputy Superintendent Lee Lovett said. "That does not mean a no-millage increase because we have the roll-up factor involved."
The millage rate is set at 17.67 mills, which includes a 1.25 mills roll-up from the fiscal 2011 rate. One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value. The county assesses property value at 40 percent, meaning the owner of a $100,000 house would pay about $50 more in taxes.
The change in the millage rate did not come silently.
"In my opinion the roll-up is a method used by the Georgia legislature to allow bloated governments to remain bloated when the tax digest drops," Murrayville resident Doug Aiken said at the meeting.
However, Aiken continued, the school board seemed to have done a better job preparing for a lower tax digest than other areas of Hall County, but that doesn't mean much for many property owners.
"The problems you're talking about here are not unique. The taxpayers out there are having problems with revenue," he said. "With your proposed passage and the proposed passage by the county ... people out there ain't going to make it."
The problem, board members said, is there's not much else to cut without affecting the quality of education in the school system.
"Over the past three years we've continued to go down, down, down in revenues," Lovett said. "Our budget for 2011 was $20 million less than it was three years earlier. The cuts are extensive and we have, over a period of three years, reduced our district staff by about 25 percent. We reduced many classroom teachers, we raised class sizes ... We can continue to increase class size and we could cut a couple more days than we have cut. But we feel like we cut our employees about as much as we could afford to cut."
The school board's budget increased from about $199 million in expenditures for fiscal 2011 to more than $201 million in fiscal 2012. Portions of this include budget items that were covered by stimulus funds last year. These had to be reabsorbed back into the general budget for fiscal 2012.
Another financial challenge the school board faces for fiscal 2012 is the amount of tax exemptions.
Lovett said there are more than 3,000 tax exemption appeals pending, and the monetary value of exemptions over the past five years is nearing $1 billion.
Though there are a number of different exemptions, Lovett said the most common in Hall County was for people 70 or older who can opt out of paying school taxes.
"We did not figure in this budget losing any more money to appeals," he said. "This ending balance will go down as those appeals go up."
Ad valorem, or property, taxes went down in value, but even with the roll-up rate to offset the difference, the school board will have $150,000 less revenue.
"Our roll-up rate was actually 1.258 and I didn't use the 0.008," Lovett said. "We never have set fractions and I didn't want to round up to the next number (1.26) because I didn't want anyone to challenge that since it's higher than the roll-up."