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Hall school officials see budget uncertainty for 2012
New legislation raises questions about millage rate changes
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As Hall County Schools officials begin to look at the budget, they're not happy about the level of uncertainty going into fiscal year 2012.

After Hall County finance staff explained dire circumstances for this year's tax digest at a recent meeting, school officials began talking about the practicality of putting together an accurate budget.

"We'll have no idea how much is coming off the digest before we have to set a millage rate in June, so we're simply going to be shooting in the dark," Lee Lovett, Hall County Schools deputy superintendent, said during Monday's school board work session meeting. "We're already down with foreclosures, and now appeals will look at vacant subdivisions that are sitting and wholesale foreclosures."

Due to a new state law, counties are required to send an assessment notice to every property owner notifying them of the value of their property, regardless if it has changed.

Officials expect the higher volume of notices will generate a higher number of people who appeal their property values.

The appeal deadline falls on June 30, meaning officials will be hearing appeals after fiscal year 2012 starts July 1.

For taxpayers, this leaves the question of whether millage rates will go up this year.

For Lovett, it means carefully crunching updated numbers again and again before school board members must vote on the budget and millage rates in June.

"I'm going to sound dumb when I say this, but we also need to look at our expenditures and whether they are portrayed accurately," Lovett said. "For instance, we have projected insurance costs, but we've seen several changes with those this year. It gets to be mind boggling when you start doing budget amendments. It's a moving target."

Though revenue numbers look unstable countywide, Lovett will focus on specifics at the schools.

"We don't want to miss the projection of our ending balance, and so far it looks like we will be better than we went into the budget hoping for," he said.

"The instruction category looks almost too good to be true."

With the loss of federal stimulus funding, Hall County Schools are looking at a budget gap of about $9 million to $13 million depending on how the 2011 budget year ends, said Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield.

"That's a huge hole, and it's the same we're hearing in all metro Atlanta counties," he said.

"The good news is that we still have some state jobs bill money set aside, and we hope to finish with a good year-end balance."

As school board members begin to consider 2012 numbers, Schofield reminded them to keep upcoming years in mind.

"As difficult as this year will be, we have to ask ourselves how we will fund education as we move forward," he said. "I continue to say that we will look back on year 2011 as the good old days. The future is going to be a real challenge."