Houston school board votes to raise property taxes

WARNER ROBINS — The Houston County school board approved a tentative millage rate increase of .87 mills Thursday for fiscal 2010. The vote was 4-1, with board member Griff Clements opposed.

The 6.89 percent increase will boost the millage rate to 13.34 mills, said Stephen Thublin, assistant superintendent for finance and business operations.

The new rate would generate $47.7 million in ad valorem taxes, he said. The rate would help offset state budget cuts for the coming year already at $17.9 million, Thublin said.

Earlier this week, Thublin predicted the rate would increase less than one mill, based on the county’s adjusted net tax digest of more than $3.6 billion.

A mill is equivalent to $1 tax owed for every $1,000 of property value. With the millage rate increase, the owner of a $100,000 home will see a $34.80 increase in their property taxes; the owner of a $150,000 home will see an increase of $57.20.

The board also approved a series of three public meetings later this month to discuss the rate increase: 6 p.m. July 20 and noon July 21 at the board offices in Perry, and at noon July 29 at the Houston County Career and Technology Center on Corder Road. The third hearing will be followed by a meeting for a final millage rate vote.

Clements said that while he supports the budget, he’s opposed to any increase in taxes, given the economic climate.

“I feel there’s more that can be cut out of the budget. The taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill,” Clements said. “Times are hard enough already.”

He suggested reducing supplements beyond the $1,000 across-the-board proposed for all employees.

“Some of our higher-paid employees aren’t doing their fair share,” he said.

Other suggestions for budget cuts include perhaps giving employees another day’s furlough or cutting down on the number of assistant principals in the schools.

The board also heard from Wanda Creel, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, who said letters were mailed Thursday to parents of Northside High students, advising them of the school choice option under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Letters initially were mailed in April, she said, but state and federal Department of Education guidelines had changed, and the school system was letting parents know about transportation to the school Northside parents choose for their children.

Northside parents have the option of school choice because the school is under “needs improvement” status for failing to make Adequate Yearly Process the past couple of years.

“We hope this is Northside’s last year,” Creel said, “because preliminary results indicate Northside made AYP for the 2008-09 school year.”

Parents have until July 23 to return the letter, she said. School choices for Northside parents are Warner Robins or Houston County high schools. Students would take their regular bus to Northside, then take a shuttle bus to either of the other two.

Parents who responded to the letter mailed in April have to reapply for school choice, she said.

To contact writer Jake Jacobs, call 923-6199, extension 305.