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Local governments: No new taxes this year
governments, schools cutting expenses, hoping revenues bounce back
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By: Times_Newsroom

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Taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief - taxes will not go up this year.

Hall County cut more than $5 million to keep costs down. And both Hall County and Gainesville school systems will maintain the same millage rates as fiscal year 2009.

The county is planning on sales tax revenues improving over fiscal year 2010, though some, like North Hall resident Douglas Aiken, think officials are being too optimistic.

Aiken said he thinks the county should go forward expecting the same amount of sales tax as it collected last year.

"In my opinion revenues are overstated," Aiken said. "If I was betting I would go for the worst case scenario and then hope for the best."

Finance Director Michaela Thompson said many methods were used to arrive at the Local Options Sales Tax projections.

"We didn't want to be pessimistic but we didn't want to be too optimistic," Thompson said.

Budget Officer Jeremy Perry said it was the economy that caused sales taxes to come in short this year.

"(2008) was the first year we did not reach those LOST projections," Perry said. "We're clearly above every year. It's just '08."

As Hall County government officials hope for revenues to improve next fiscal year, Hall County school system leaders are building a budget accounting for 4 percent less revenue, including $8 million less in state funds.

The Hall County school board tentatively adopted a $204.4 million general fund budget Monday, which was 6 percent smaller than the fiscal year 2009 budget.

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said the board cut all areas of the budget except for instructional technology and business services. He said the board devoted $671,000 more to business services in anticipation of many more un
employment claims following the elimination of 121 positions, including 100 teachers, this spring.

The system is already hiring back several teachers who were informed in March they would not have a 2009-10 contract, said Hall County schools Assistant Superintendent Richard Hill.

The Hall school board also included in the budget a 2.4 percent pay cut for all system employees. The school board members' salaries will be cut 9 percent and the superintendent's salary will be cut 3.4 percent.

"We think we've done everything we think is prudent at this point, but like everyone else in the nation, we'll just have to wait and see," Schofield said.

While the pieces seem to be falling into place for the Hall school system, leaders of the Gainesville school system have several key decisions to make before adopting a final budget on June 23.

Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the board still plans to apply $2 million to its deficit by the upcoming fiscal year's end in June 2010. Hindered by an estimated $5.6 million deficit, the Gainesville school board tentatively adopted a
$51 million budget Monday but hopes to fine tune the budget to include salaries for 43.5 more teachers.

The system eliminated 101 positions, including 61 teachers, through attrition and lay offs this spring.

"We're going to do school with 17.5 less positions, but with more kids," Dyer said. "We'll go up in class sizes by about one or two (students) if we can bring these people (teachers) back."

Gainesville schools Chief Financial Officer Janet Allison said the board aims to carve out another $1.37 million to hire the teachers necessary to increase class sizes slightly.

Allison said the board has several options as it tries to meet its final budget goal of nearly $51.6 million.

It could implement a monthly $100 to $200 pay cut to all system employees to save about $1.3 million, she said. The superintendent and school board members would receive a pay cut, too, Dyer said.

The board also could cut its $138,932 employer share of the system's dental health program, use local sales tax revenues to cover $373,000 of new technology needed at the new Gainesville Middle School or restructure a 1993 bond used to build Centennial Arts Academy.

Allison said restructuring the bond would allow the system to pay only $100,000 in interest this year and defer the $2 million bond payment to 2011 or 2012.

If the board decided to restructure the bond, she said, the system could apply its millage debt rate to its maintenance and operation millage rate, which would apply $1.3 million to the system's maintenance and operation fund. That $1.3 million could then be used to fund teacher salaries, transportation and purchase textbooks for the upcoming school year, Allison said.

Dyer said also the board is opening the new Gainesville Middle School this August but has kept maintenance and operation costs down.

"We're opening a new building and maintaining an old one and our operating expenditures are at the same or less as last year," Dyer said.