The Effingham County Board of Education will not raise its millage rate for the 2014 fiscal year and will use funds from the state’s midterm adjustment to adopt a balanced budget.
By a 5-0 vote Thursday, the school board gave tentative approval to a 16.897 millage rate, the same as for the current budget, and an $83.3 million budget for FY 2014.
To bring revenues in line with expenses, the school district will apply to the budget $806,000 of the $914,000 Effingham County received from the state’s midterm adjustment. School districts receive midterm funds if they have an increase in students enrolled during the school year or, in Effingham’s case, growth in special courses such as CTAE (Career, Technical and Agricultural Education), the gifted program and special education.
“Even though we’re having to rely on the midterm to meet the budget, we feel like we can operate with those numbers,” Superintendent Randy Shearouse said.
The school board opened the floor for public comment on the proposed budget, but no one spoke. The community will have one more opportunity to make comments at the June 20 board of education meeting, when the BoE is scheduled to give final approval of the FY 2014 budget and the property tax millage rate.
Applying the 16.897 millage rate, the school district projects its FY14 revenue from local property taxes to be just under $25 million. That would be a slight increase from the $24.7 million collected in the current budget year, when Effingham County’s tax digest decreased by 9 percent, or $138 million, from the previous year.
However, school officials are optimistic the housing market in Effingham County is starting to rebound. Shearouse cited a report that home buyers closed on 75 houses in Effingham in April.
Also, the school district is hopeful it will continue to receive past-due tax payments. The Effingham County School System has collected $990,000 this year in taxes from previous years.
“The good news is that, even keeping at 16.897, we will actually anticipate receiving more (property tax revenue) than we did last year because of the new growth and so forth that’s there,” Shearouse said.
“Provided the digest stops sliding,” said Slade Helmly, the school system’s executive director of administrative services.
The school district’s $83.3 million in budgeted expenses are an increase of 2.9 percent, or $2.3 million, from the FY13 budget. The additional expenditures include $643,585 for step raises owed to teachers for their years of experience and $575,000 in increased costs of health coverage for non-certified employees.
Meanwhile, the $806,000 from the midterm adjustment is one of two major boosts for the district’s revenue to meet its expenses. The other is $7.4 million in equalization — funding the state provides to lower-wealth school districts — a considerable increase from the $4.7 million in equalization Effingham County received last year.
The Effingham County Board of Education raised the millage rate from 15.333 to 16.897 last year, but it was not considered a tax increase because of the significant decline in the tax digest. The $24.7 million the school district collected in property taxes fell short of its projection of $25.1 million.
“It very well points out it was definitely not a tax increase,” Helmly said.
“Less money, definitely not a tax increase,” BoE Chairman Lamar Allen said.