At the May 15 meeting of the Hall County Schools Board of Education, Superintendent Will Schofield expressed the need for a policy debate on school funding at the state level. Other recent articles have noted the rising costs for local districts to provide state-mandated requirements in employee contributions toward benefits.
Addressing school funding on the state level is long overdue and particularly impacts Hall County due to the increase in our property values. Schools are funded through state and local taxes along with a small percentage of federal funding. Over the last 20 years, local governments have picked up a larger portion of the tab due to austerity cuts in the state funding formula.
At the same time, our community has grown to include vast medical complexes and university expansions which are tax exempt. Many people do not realize that all property owned by a church, university or hospital, regardless of its current use, is exempt. Additionally, citizens over age 70, which is a growing number in our community, are exempt. The result is an increasing burden on residential taxpayers younger than 70 and business property owners.
It should be noted that medical, university and retirement communities do generate increased revenue in the form of sales tax which, upon voter approval, can fund projects through a Special Local Option Sales Tax. However, SPLOST funds cannot be used for employee salaries and benefit which are roughly 85 to 87 percent of the budget of a local school district. Therefore, the burden is on the property taxpayer.
It is hoped that our state legislators will be able to make progress in addressing this issue.