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School board OKs $88.6M budget

POSTED: June 23, 2014 7:40 p.m.

The Effingham County Board of Education will use $2 million from its general operations account to balance its budget for the 2015 fiscal year.

The school board on Thursday approved an $88.6 million budget and 16.608 rollback millage rate for FY 2015, which begins July 1. The budget passed by a 4-0 vote, with newly-sworn-in board member Beth Helmly abstaining.

“Expenses equal revenue for next year,” Superintendent Randy Shearouse said.

The $88,659,087 budget is a $5.2 million increase from the current budget. One reason is that all school system employees will receive a 3 percent pay increase, their first cost-of-living raise since 2008-09.

“The 3 percent raise, for example, is over $2 million,” Shearouse said.

The spending increases also include funding for additional employees, step raises teachers are due based on their experience, a hike in the district’s contribution to the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia and additional funds for classroom supplies.

The county tax digest is falling short of the school board’s initial projection, meaning a decrease in property tax revenue for the school system. The BoE projected $25.1 million in local property taxes for its tentative budget approval last month, but amended that to $24.7 million.

Despite the decline in property taxes, the school system’s overall revenue will increase. To reflect that, the board of education rolled back the millage rate from the 16.897 for its two previous budgets to 16.608.

“We really need to start seeing an increase in the local digest,” Shearouse said. “I think it’s great that we can lower the millage rate this year, and certainly it’s something we will have to look at if things don’t change in the future as far as the value of property in Effingham County.”

The Effingham County tax digest has not yet been finalized. However, school officials do not anticipate any significant change in the digest for the FY 15 budget.

“It is what it is. I don’t think it’s going to be any worse,” said BoE Chairman Lamar Allen.

Funding from the state is $57.4 million, up from $54.5 million for the 2014 fiscal year. That is despite a $510,000 cut in equalization — money the state provides to school districts considered to be lower-wealth, relative to other districts.

“You never know totally whether you’re going to pick up money there or lose money there because you really compare Effingham County with the rest of the state and the wealth of the state,” Shearouse explained.

With expenses up and property tax revenue down, the board of education will apply to the budget $2 million from its fund balance and nearly $1.3 million it never spent from the state’s mid-term adjustments the past two years. The school board also anticipates receiving $1.2 million from Georgia’s new title ad valorem tax on vehicles, after not budgeting for it in FY 14.

“That (combination) will make a balanced budget occur,” Shearouse said.

Even with the $2 million being taken out to meet the budget, the school system’s fund balance is projected to be approximately $6.7 million at the end of the current fiscal year, according to Shearouse and Finance Director Ron Wilson.

“We’ll probably have a larger fund balance than we’ve had in some time at the end of June, even with using some of the fund balance,” Shearouse said. “So we’re very fortunate to have that money to spend for next year.”

Shearouse attributed that to the board of education being frugal through tough financial times in recent years.

“I’ve talked to a lot of superintendents, and there are still a lot of systems with furlough days,” he said. “And there are very few systems that are giving teacher raises.”

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