Bibb BOE approves millage rate, votes to pay Dallemand’s legal bills

During a called meeting Thursday, the Bibb County Board of Education voted to keep the school millage rate the same as the previous three years and also approved paying Superintendent Romain Dallemand’s attorney fees in a legal fight with outgoing board member Gary Bechtel.

Per Dallemand’s contract, the board agreed 7-0 to pay Dallemand’s attorney’s fees in a lawsuit filed against him last month by Bechtel and his wife, Laura, over the release of a portion of their son’s academic records. Bechtel was absent from Thursday’s meeting.

Dallemand is being represented by the firm of Harben, Hartley & Hawkins of Gainesville in the lawsuit, which lists Dallemand as the sole defendant.

In a separate vote, the board voted 7-0 to direct school system attorneys to challenge having to pay attorney’s fees in a lawsuit the school system lost against Bechtel and school board candidates Lester Miller and Brenda Sutton.

Earlier this year, the three sued the school board and the Bibb County Board of Elections to force them to use new federally approved voting districts in the county rather than the previous ones.

A school system official said those legal fees are roughly $50,000.

School board President Tommy Barnes declined to comment on either lawsuit, saying that both are open litigation cases.

Section 16 of Dallemand’s contract indemnifies him from “any and all demands, claims, suits, actions and legal proceedings (including attorney’s fees) brought against the Superintendent in his individual capacity or in his official capacity as an agent and employee of the District, provided that the claim or suit arose while the Superintendent was acting within the scope of his employment ...”

Earlier in Thursday’s meeting, the board voted 6-0 to keep the millage rate at 17.945 mills, the same rate it has had for the past three years. With Bechtel absent, only six members voted on the matter because Barnes arrived after the vote.

By leaving the millage rate untouched, the district likely will lose out on roughly $1.6 million because of lower property values in Bibb County, which led to declining revenue, district officials said.

School board Vice President Susan Middleton said the board decided to keep the same rate because of a still-sluggish economy that is affecting Bibb County residents.

The millage rate is expected to bring in a gross amount of $74.8 million to the district. However, as the school system’s Chief Financial Officer Ron Collier noted, the tax commissioner’s office takes a 2.5 percent collection fee off the top, and usually about 2 percent of the people don’t pay their taxes, so the net amount for the county likely will be less than the nearly $75 million.

To maintain last year’s revenue totals, the district would have had to have a higher millage rate of 18.435 mills.

The millage rate vote comes after Macon and Bibb County approved their millage rates. Macon City Council lowered its millage rate to 9.7 mills, a one-tenth of a mill decrease from last year, while Bibb County commissioners approved keeping the county’s rate at 12.003 mills.

Tax Commissioner Thomas Tedders said Thursday the county’s tax digest won’t be available for another week.

Writers Andrea Castillo and Mike Stucka contributed to this report.