Comparing 2016 school
district millage rates
• Rockdale 25.32 (highest)
• Effingham 15.991
• McIntosh 15.863
• Bryan 15.49
• Chatham 16.631
• Wayne 16.959
• Long 13.483
Liberty’s 2015 millage rate was 15.88.
— Georgia Dept. of Revenue
A majority of the Long County Board of Education changed its collective mind during a called meeting Tuesday morning about rolling back the millage rate.
Instead, the board voted 3-2 to rescind the rollback proposal and voted to consider raising the millage to 14.50.
The reversal was prompted by a new state law that could cause the system to become ineligible for equalization grant monies and lose more than $4 million in state funding if the millage rate is rolled back.
BOE Chair Florence Baggs, Vice Chair Julie Dawson and Board Member Marcus DeLoach voted for the proposal to increase the current 13.483 millage rate by 1.017 mills. Board Members Linda DeLoach and Dr. Carolyn Williamson opposed the proposed measure.
If the board approves the increase next month, the impact on taxpayers would be $41 per year on a $100,000 property, school officials estimated.
School Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters explained that Georgia Law O.C.G.A. 20-2-165 requires a qualified school system to have a 13.5 millage rate by July 1, 2018 and at least 14 mills by July 1, 2019 to be eligible for equalization grant funds.
Equalization grants are, “an additional aid provided to school systems intended to narrow the gap between systems in terms of property tax wealth per pupil,” according to school officials. These grants are based on the wealth gap between systems across Georgia and weigh the effort that local school boards put into generating local tax revenue, the superintendent said.
The school system got more than $3.5 million in such funds in fiscal year 2017, and its equalization grant should be more than $4.2 million in fiscal year 2018, Waters said.
Waters told board members that the Long County School System is considered to be in “a low-wealth county” and is ranked as having one of the 17 lowest millage rates among schools systems in the state.
The 180 school systems across Georgia have an average rate of 16.2 mills with the maximum rate set at 20 mills, he said.
Property taxes currently make up only 17.4 percent of the school system’s total general fund revenues, officials say.
Waters said the state would prefer a 40 percent local, 60 percent state split in revenue. Currently, the state provides 72.6 percent in revenue and the federal government provides 10 percent.
The district’s total fiscal year 2017 general fund revenues stand at more than $24.7 million. Of that amount, the system received almost $19.9 million from the state and $308,529 from the federal government.
The board voted to schedule three public hearings on the proposed millage rate increase and set a date for a final vote on the millage rate. County residents are encouraged to attend the hearings and called meeting.
The board will advertise its proposal to raise the mill on Wednesday, Sept. 8, in the legal organ, as well as its 5-year history of tax levy. Public hearings will be held at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, and at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21.
A called meeting for a final vote on the proposed millage rate will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21.
The hearings and called meeting will be held in the Long County BOE Board Room, at the school board offices, 468 S. McDonald Street, across from the courthouse, in Ludowici.
In a brief, side discussion, board members commented on the school system’s need to replace its aging fleet of 40 buses. Additional monies from a raised millage would help the system purchase more buses, school officials said.
Waters said buses cost about $109,000 each. The system replaced three buses last year.
District administrators also pointed out that 76 percent of the estimated 3,700 students that attend Long County schools are on the free and reduced lunch program.
Extra money could help supplement the program, they said.