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School system to hold millage rate the same

Liberty County Board of Education members are keeping the millage rate where it was for the previous fiscal year — but it will result in a tax increase.

Board members voted Tuesday to keep the millage rate at 15.25, but with the growth in the county property digest, that means the millage will bring in more tax money than the previous year.

While federal impact aid — which stems from Liberty County not being able to impose property taxes on Fort Stewart — has contributed to the school system’s revenues in the past, that money is

decreasing and by a large amount, school board Chair Verdell Jones pointed out.

“That money has to be made up somewhere,” she said.

The school system also is feeling the effect of rising health insurance costs and rising prices for goods and services, Jones noted.

“We have been financially sound,” she said. “We want to continue that. There are other districts that are having to turn their lights off.”

More than 60% of the system’s students receive free or reduced lunch, reflecting the county’s poverty rate, Jones said.

“It is incumbent upon us to educate our children so they may be the ones to pull their families out of poverty and for that, we will not play Russian roulette with any dollars,” she said. “We know that education is that foundation.”

The school board’s budget, adopted back in June, calls for $27.1 million in revenue from property taxes. The overall budget calls for $139.6 million in spending and just over $135 million in revenue, with fund balance making up the difference.

The lion’s share of the school system’s revenues, about $80 million, comes from the state.

Board members held their third and final public millage rate hearing — required by state law when the millage is not rolled back to a rate that keeps the tax bill the same or lower than the previous year — Tuesday before adopting the rate.

“We are raising taxes,” board member Marcus Scott IV said.

Daniel Fisher, a local real estate agent, urged board members to take another look at the millage rate and the additional taxes it will bring in.

“Property values have increased significantly,” he said. “You’re getting more money just on that. You are one more log on the finance fire. Can we not do less with more for a while?”

Jones said the school system may look at how it could do things differently in an effort to cut costs and cut the budget.

The school system also has put in place raises for classified personnel on a rotating basis and has put in efforts to recruit bus drivers.

“I recruit for bus drivers and (paraprofessionals) every day,” Jones said. “There are people who get up every morning and they come in here and they work and they work hard to educate our kids. We appreciate every person in our district that helps and we appreciate our students because they work hard and they do everything they can.”

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