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School taxes: Falling land value means 6% rise in rates

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

With overall property values in Georgetown County down as a result of reassessment, the Board of Education is considering raising the tax rate 6 percent to cover a projected shortfall of more than $2.2 million for operating expenses and $828,527 for debt services in its 2011 budget.

That follows a 7.6 percent increase by County Council to maintain its revenue level following this year’s property reassessment.

To meet its proposed $70.1 million budget, the school board is looking at an increase of 6 mills for operating expenses and 1.5 mills for debt services.

Not pursuing the increases would result in the reduction of 40 to 50 staff members, including teachers, deferring planned projects and not being able to purchase new technology, according to district staff.

The board weighed the option of going ahead with the rate increase at a meeting this week, but decided to wait until its next meeting on Oct. 19, to give themselves and the public time to consider the issue.

“We didn’t want to rush into anything. We wanted to allow ourselves time to further consider the issue and to allow time for the public to provide us with feedback,” Chairman Jim Dumm said.

Since a state tax reform adopted in 2006, owner-occupied property doesn’t pay property taxes to fund school operations. The 6-mill increase there would be paid by owners of non-residential property.

For the owner of a $100,000 non-residential property, including a rental home or second home, the proposed increase would be $36.

 Owner-occupied property is taxed to pay for debt service. The 1.5 mill increase equals $6 on a $100,000 property. For a non-residential property, it would be $9.

The rise in the tax rate will not necessarily indicate a tax increase. Decreases in property values could leave some owners paying the same as last year or even less. Those whose property value increased or stayed the same, will see a higher tax bill.

The school district has seen its total budget pared by roughly $8 million over the last three years and the district will lose close to $6.1 million in federal stimulus funds next year.

To make up for the losses, programs have been cut, vacancies have gone unfilled and various projects have been delayed.

What has been avoided, for the most part, is teacher layoffs. With studies illustrating the drawbacks of increasing class size, the district is hoping that is a trend that can continue.

“When you talk about turning things around and increasing economic development, one of the first things you consider is education,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. “Education is an investment. You need to have quality school programs.”

“We have to continue to make every effort to do away with waste and see that we are investing dollars to be used in the classroom,” Dumm said. “And we have to continue to hold ourselves, principals and teachers accountable for performance.”

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