The Liberty County Board of Education is considering increasing the millage rate from the current rate of 15.6 percent to 16.5 percent.
The millage rate process begins with tax assessors evaluating the property in the county and assigning it a value each year for tax purposes, Interim Director of Finance Janine Graham said. There are two types of growth, she explained, one is the actual growth and one is inflationary growth. The tax assessors calculate the amount of growth from inflation and provides a rollback millage rate.
This rate produces the same total revenue on the current year’s tax digest that the previous year’s millage rate would have produced, had no reassessments occurred, according to a press release from the Liberty BOE.
“We’ve used the rollback rate, because that does not cause property tax increases,” Graham said. “We’ve actually been able to roll back the past five years.”
A mill in Liberty County differs from a mill in surrounding counties, just because of the tax digest. Each county’s tax digest differs. It denotes property values, industry, and other factors that increase the value of a mill in a county, Graham said.
“A mill in Bryan County produces more money,” she said. “A mill in Liberty County is less, and in Long County, it’s less than Liberty. It’s just pointless to compare millage rates, because it’s like apples and oranges.”
Currently, Liberty County School System receives Federal Impact Aid, or Basic Support Payments offered by the Federal Government.
According to the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, basic support payments for federally-connected children compensate school districts for educating students whose parents or legal guardians reside or work on federal property, including children of service members. It is the largest component of the Impact Aid program—in both funding and number of school districts.
Although LCSS is growing, the number of federally connected students decreased, affecting the amount of aid the district receives, according to Graham. There could be a noticeable decline in the aid received, she said, because the federally connected percentage has dropped.
“This year, we’ve seen a decline in our percentages,” she said. “Which could lead to us being less heavily impacted. One of the things we’re concerned about is that our impact aid monies will decrease.” LCSS is required to keep the millage rate within 95 percent of the state average, in order to keep its impact aid.
“They don’t want us to solely rely on that impact aid,” she added.
In 1999, the millage rate hovered at 17.8 percent, Graham said, and steadily decreased years after that, to the current rate of 15.666 percent.
“The only way to offset costs from the decline in funding is to raise the millage rate,” Graham said. In this year alone, she said, costs are continuing to rise, between fuel and energy costs and statewide increases. The bulk of the funding, she continued, comes from the state.
Governor Nathan Deal allocated extra funding to LCSS through the QBE (Quality Basic Education Act), with a stipulation of a two percent raise for employees. However, LCSS’s salary scale is higher than the state base due to a raise given a few years ago, she said. The system is a charter system, which allowed them to grant the raise.
In addition to the increase, the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia also raised the employer contribution rate from 16.81 percent to 20.9 percent, thereby wiping out all the extra funds received, Graham said.
“The increase the governor gave us was eaten up before we ever touched anything,” Graham added. “One thing we want to do in order to maintain funding and quality of education is we have to supplement that with local funds.”
LCSS is anticipating a drop in its impact aid, so the goal is to be proactive to lessen the blow, she said. The millage increase from 15.666 to 16.5 yields only a .83 percent increase, Graham said. However, with this millage rate increase, it will affect local property taxes—causing a 5.51 percent increase. This tax change requires a set of public hearings to allow the public to ask questions.
“We’ve elected to raise the rate in order to be proactive,” Graham said. “By raising it now, we present a small increase, instead of a larger one at a later time.”
The public hearings are set for 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Oct. 9, and 9 a.m. Oct. 23 at the Liberty County Board of Education building. Look for the notices in the Coastal Courier.