The Bibb County school board on Monday tentatively approved a $197 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year that would give a 3-percent raise to employees but also would require higher property taxes.
Board members voted 6-2 to approve the budget with board Vice President Jason Downey and Daryl Morton opposing because of the tax increase.
“And the reality is, it’s not going to do that,” Morton said.
He pointed out that some districts were still furloughing teachers, and the increased funding doesn’t even get Bibb County back to the amount recommended through the state’s formula. While Morton said he couldn’t support a tax increase at this time, board President Lester Miller said it was up to the Bibb board to make good on the raise for teachers and other employees after Deal “passed the buck” down to the local level.
“We’re the ones that have our feet to the fire and have to deal with it,” Miller said.
The board had been opposed to a tax increase for a while, he said. There has not been an increase in the school millage rate since 2008.
“We can’t kick the can down the road, in my opinion, much longer,” Miller said.
Miller also said it is important to make sure education funding is sufficient to help keep students on a positive track and away from the prison system. He estimated that incarceration costs about $32,000 per inmate while schools generally receive about $5,000 to $6,000 per student.
“This money is well spent on our children,” he said.
Morton supported a one-year bonus of about 2 percent for district employees to give taxpayers a chance to hear more about the tax increase, which wouldn’t fully be approved until August, according to Chief Financial Officer Ron Collier.
Collier said the 2-percent bonus would still lead to increased deficits, and without a tax increase the district would go into a negative ending fund balance by 2021.
“And that was a one-time bonus,” Collier said.
With the millage rate increase, the ending fund balance would be less than the beginning balance each of the next two years, but that deficit would turn into an excess by the 2018-19 school year. And with the increase in property taxes, the ending balance would be 9 percent or higher of expenditures, which satisfies board policies.
The increase also would sustain the 3-percent raise for employees long-term.
“This will allow the district to hire and retain qualified teachers and staff,” Collier said.
The proposal, which is set to be published in The Telegraph on June 10, reflects about $197 million in expenses for 2016-17 with an ending fund balance of $18.9 million. A public hearing will be held at the board’s June 16 meeting at 6 p.m. following by a meeting for final adoption set for June 23 at 4 p.m.