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Hall schools board sets preliminary millage rate
Final decision on tax hike to come by Aug. 27
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Members of the Hall County Board of Education are tentatively considering raising property owners’ taxes this year — an increase that would mean property owners would pay another 82 cents on every $1,000 in taxable property value.

According to the state’s guidelines on taxation, any rate increase that keeps property tax revenue the same is considered a “roll-up,” which allows the school board to offset revenue lost by falling property values.

At a work session Monday, the board set a preliminary rate of 18.49 mills.

The board won’t make a final decision on the hike until Aug. 27.

The board’s rate, as it stands, is 17.67 mills; the current rate is a result of a hike of 1.25 mills on property rates last year. One mill equals $1 in tax for each $1,000 in assessed property values.

This year’s increase, though not as high as the last, allows the board to recuperate some of the revenues lost by declining property values and to manage rising insurance costs.

Property values within reach of the board’s taxing arm are expected to be some 8.91 percent lower this year, according to the county’s chief tax assessor, Steve Watson.

Hall schools Superintendent Will Schofield described the lower values as “multiple millions of dollars of loss” in revenues for the school system.

Because of the lower property values, board members could have chosen to raise the rate to 19.31 mills to keep property tax revenues the same without considering the move a bona fide tax increase.

School officials have seen health insurance rates and average salaries rise. At the same time, the system has seen reduced contributions from the state board of education.

Adding a smaller tax digest into the equation could create a “perfect storm” for the school system, the superintendent said.

Schofield said the system’s contribution to health insurance coverage for its approximately 1,600 “classified employees” (system employees without teaching certificates) has risen from $186 per month per employee to $830 per month per employee over the last two years.

Board members chose the lowest option presented to them by staff Monday. Schofield, before handing the issue off to the board for discussion, asked board members to pick a millage rate that ranged between 18.49 mills and 18.69 mills.

Board Chairman Nath Morris suggested the latter, first asking if the system could operate on the lowest increase offered.

“It might be cutting it a little close,” Schofield answered.

Hall school officials plan to spend some $194 million in the coming year.

Despite the two straight years of higher property tax rates, the proposed budget for next year is some $23 million smaller than it was in 2009, according to school officials.

“And our employees have borne the brunt of that,” Schofield said.

Compared with that same school year, the system now serves 800 more students, Schofield said. The school’s calendar is also 10 days shorter.

“Some of the people that I know you hear from that I hear from also in the grocery store, they’re not militant but they ask the question: ‘Mr. Schofield, aren’t you concerned that our children aren’t going to school 180 days anymore?’” Schofield told the board. “My answer is ‘Absolutely, I’m concerned that our children don’t go to school, but these are unprecedented times.’”