The Bibb County school board gave final approval to a 2016-17 school year budget Thursday that includes a 3-percent raise for all employees.
The budget, with expenditures of $197.1 million and a projected ending balance of $18.9 million, would also require a 2-mill property tax increase that will need to be approved later this year.
“The projected millage increase will be the first one for the district since calendar year 2008,” said Ron Collier, the system’s chief financial officer.
Board President Lester Miller expressed his support for the tax increase. Without it, he said, a raise for employees would not be possible. Further, the increase allows the district to hire more teachers and other staff members that have been lacking in recent years.
Miller said other business owners might be tempted to operate at lower staffing levels to balance a budget, but that would mean larger class sizes, adding stress to teachers and hurting the educational experience for students.
“In the business world, you would do that,” he said. “We can’t do that in the education field.”
The budget passed by a 5-1 vote, with board members Jason Downey and Wanda West absent. Daryl Morton cast the vote in opposition, although Downey also expressed in a statement that he opposed the millage rate increase.
For Morton, opposition came down to a lack of information because Collier said tax commissioners and representatives of the Macon-Bibb County government were not consulted during the budgeting process. Collier estimated an increase in tax revenue of about $1.7 million in addition to the $7.6 million created by a millage increase, but that didn’t line up with estimates that Morton and Miller got from the tax commissioner’s office.
“I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t reach out to the tax commissioner’s office and the consolidated government,” Morton said.
He also said the board should have gotten more input from the community and given notice that a millage rage increase was possible before a May 31 work session. While that was the first time it came up officially as a need for the 2016-17 budget, board member Tom Hudson brought up raising the millage rate at the first work session on March 15, and property taxes came up again on May 10.
Hudson said raising the millage rate was “long overdue” after cuts in the past resulted in lower staffing levels.
“It’s had a negative effect on educating our children and stuff,” he said.
Unlike last week’s public hearing, residents spoke at Thursday’s meeting. While Arthur Brook eventually said he supported the millage-rate increase, he said higher property taxes, in addition to raised fees for services such as garbage collection, could have a “psychological impact” on the community.
“What I have read and what I have seen has made me very concerned as far as overall budgeting for the county,” he said.
Bob Easter, a candidate in the runoff for Downey’s District 6 seat, said he was not in favor of the tax increase and encouraged board members to vote against it.
“Our working families simply cannot afford any more tax burden,” he said.
A 2-mill increase is expected to result in about $80 more in property taxes for every $100,000 in home value. Easter is running against Valerie Wynn in the runoff, scheduled for July 26.
That’s about the time the county’s tax digest will be available, and it’s expected the board would vote on a millage increase in early August. The next scheduled meeting of the school board is July 21 at 4 p.m.
At Thursday’s meeting, board members unanimously approved the sale of the old Hall Elementary School site for $225,000. They also approved the appointment of April Harriger as director of Northwoods Academy and Barbara Austin as director of Hutchings College and Career Academy.