Stephens Co. BOE Proposes Maxing Out Millage

The Stephens County Board of Education is proposing to cap out the millage rate at the state maximum 20 mills to help deal with a multi-million dollar budget shortfall.

During a called meeting Monday morning, the school board voted 6 to 1 to approve a tentative millage rate of 20 mills.

Previously, a majority of board members had expressed an interest in only raising it to 19.4 mills.

Board member Tony Crunkleton said lowering the number of work days that staff would lose is one reason he would consider going to the 20-mill cap.

He said another has to do with possible help from the state.

“There is also a chance we could recover some of this (money),” said Crunkleton. “It may not be until the second half of the year.”

Stephens County School Superintendent Bryan Dorsey first brought up the possibility of getting help from the state.

Dorsey said going to 20 mills would be the only way to have that chance.

“It may provide us an opportunity and let me emphasize the word ‘may’ to seek assistance from the state due to a crisis,” said Dorsey. “It is not guaranteed.”

Dorsey said his research showed the state would not even consider assistance if the school system did not cap out the millage rate because the school system would have not done everything it could do at that point.

While the majority of the board Tuesday voted to go to 20 mills, Board of Education Chair Dr. Elizabeth Pinkerton voted against it.

She said she just cannot support it.

“I am opposed to going all the way to 20,” said Pinkerton. “Still am, was last week. I just think that is a huge burden on everyone, including teachers.”

Based on information he provided to the Board of Education on Thursday, Dorsey says capping the millage rate at 20 mills would also require a reduction in work days of about 11 to find the estimated $2.7 million that is projected to be needed to both balance the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and pay back the estimated deficit in the school system’s fund balance.

Dorsey said to reduce the number of work days lost below 11 significantly would require a reduction in force and possible program elimination.

The Stephens County Board of Education will finalize any reduction in work days or other cuts when it eventually approves a Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

As for the millage rate increase, the board must hold three public hearings and then take a final vote before it becomes official.

Those hearings are set for July 10 at 6 p.m., July 15 at 5 p.m., and July 18 at 8 a.m. and the Board of Education would officially vote on the millage rate on July 18 after the 8 a.m. public hearing.

Raising the millage rate to 20 mills, an increase of 1.6 mills over the current rate of 18.4 mills, would increase taxes by about $64 for every $100,000 in value, according to Stephens County Tax Commissioner Dene Hicks.