The Liberty County Board of Education will consider increasing the millage rate for the school district to maintain both the level of federal funds received and property tax revenue.
At the Tuesday morning work session, Roger Reese, the Liberty County School System’s chief financial officer, told board members that county’s tax digest “decreased for inflationary purposes, meaning that the overall gross amount of funds set by the county is less than the prior year.”
“Therefore,” he continued, “in order to collect the same level of funding as we collected in the past, we may want to consider raising the millage rate — which is not a tax increase — but to collect the same level of funding.”
To maintain federal Impact Aid, the district’s millage rate has to be 95 percent of the average millage rate for Georgia school districts or higher. Currently, the Liberty County system receives $8 million in federal Impact Aid funding, which is given to school districts that lose potential tax revenue because of federal activities, such as a military installation like Fort Stewart.
The district’s millage rate for this past year is 15.65, which put the district above the 95 percent requirement.
“Liberty County School System is a heavily impacted-aid school district,” Reese said. “It means that a lot of our funds come from federal funds, and in order to maintain the level of Impact Aid funded, the district is required for the millage rate to remain about 95 percent of the statewide average above all school districts.”
Reese said that the millage rate could increase by half-of-one mill, from 15.65 to 16.15. A house assessed at $100,000 with the current millage rate of 15.65 yields $626 in school property tax annually. The same house’s tax bill with a 16.15 millage rate would be $646 — an increase of $20.
Reese said it’s been the district’s practice to set the millage rate after all other school districts in the state have established theirs to ensure that Liberty’s rate meets or exceeds the 95 percent requirement. Out of 180 school districts in the state, 165 have established their millage rates for fiscal year 2015-16.
School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee said she wanted the board to be aware of the possibility of raising the millage rate.
“By the time we come back on Nov. 17 and we vote, we will have those other districts (that have not reported their rate), and we may not have to raise the millage rate,” she said.
The $8 million in Impact Aid funding could be lost if the district’s millage rate is not 95 percent of average millage rate for Georgia school districts or higher. Lee said that if the district lost this funding, money would have to be found another way, which could mean cuts in staff, instructional materials or programs.
Jason Rogers, the school system’s chief operations officer, said there was success in getting language written in into the reauthorization of the federal Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that would allow for a district that fell below the 95 percent requirement to get a one year hold-harmless provision. That means the district would be allowed one year to comply with the requirement and still maintain eligibility. The reauthorized ESEA has not yet been signed into law.