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Budget a big help to Effingham
Schools, tax payers to get the biggest benefits in states pending budget
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State Rep. Jon Burns, left, and state Sen. Jack Hill announce the state funds included in the fiscal year 2009 budget for Effingham County. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Effingham County taxpayers and the school board are expected to benefit from the state’s fiscal year 2009 budget, should Gov. Sonny Perdue sign it into law.

The Effingham County school system stands to get $3.65 million in the budget in new money, said state Rep. Jon Burns (R-Newington) and state Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville). Effingham property tax owners are expected to get back more than $2.5 million in homeowners tax relief.

“It directly affects our pocketbooks,” Burns said of the homeowners tax relief. “I’m pleased to be a part of that and Sen. Hill has worked on that over the years and has been a champion for that.”

Sen. Hill said a notice on a property tax bill shows how much credit landowners are getting.

“People don’t really notice it on their tax bills, but it tells you your bill has been reduced by a certain amount by the state reimbursing the county ahead of time for ad valorem taxes,” he said.

The Effingham schools are getting more than $1.9 million in an increase in their Quality Basic Education formula growth, another $1.38 million in an equalization funding increase and $326,000 from the legislature’s cut to the austerity reductions.

The austerity cuts were begun when the state was in hard times financially as Gov. Perdue took office. The state budget was cut by 5 percent across the board — including education.

“Something the legislature initiated this year was to reduce the austerity cuts,” Hill said.

“Those cuts have continued to live on through other budgets, even though we’ve narrowed it down. This year, one of the goals of both houses was to reduce that figure.”

State lawmakers restored about $50 million from the austerity cuts, taking that level down to about $90 million.

The equalization money allows districts deemed to be poorer to have a more level playing field, and the QBE formula funding accounts for rapid increases in student enrollments.

“One of the things we are committed to in the General Assembly is to return as many dollars as we can to our local systems,” Burns said.

Effingham Superintendent Randy Shearouse said he was worried about losing $900,000 in equalization money at the beginning of the year.

“The way they look at Effingham County, Effingham County is a poor county,” he said. “Our land value is not what it’s worth in our counties. We’re 133rd out of 180 systems on the poor side. It’s great to have the equalization money. It helps us significantly.”

The school board is planning to roll back its millage rate, “and all of that helps tremendously,” Shearouse said. “It will be put to good use.”

In determining equalization funding, the state looks at the tax bases for each of the 180 school systems and determines a midpoint. Those on one side of the line get help; those on the other don’t.

“Believe it or not, Gwinnett County gets equalization funding,” Hill said of the state’s largest school system.
Gwinnett schools, with an enrollment of nearly 160,000 students, have a budget of $1.7 billion. They stood to lose $25 million in equalization funding.

“It’s probably a funding that time has come to take another look at,” he said.

The Effingham system is adding seven new teachers at Effingham County High School, several more at South Effingham High School and five new elementary teachers. Plus, there will be support staff to go along with that, in addition to more remedial teachers at the high schools to keep those class sizes small and a new team at the freshman academy.

Shearouse said the freshman class entering Effingham County High School next fall is expected to be 525 students.

Also, teachers are getting a 2.5 percent pay raise.

“It’s easy to say it’s going toward hiring new teachers to fill the need of a fast-growing system,” he said. “We try to put the money out where it makes a difference, and that’s the classroom.”

The school system also is looking at upping its fuel budget to $900,000 after it underestimated fuel costs by $300,000 this year.

“It looks like prices are continuing to rise, especially in diesel fuel,” Shearouse said.

The budget also includes $1 million for the Savannah Technical College’s Effingham campus. Enrollment there is at 251 and 160 of the students are from Effingham, campus director Laurie Herrington said.

Hill said the budget is awaiting the governor’s signature and though he could eliminate programs and projects, it’s unlikely he will wield his veto pen for the Effingham items.

“There’s always things he can line item veto, and I guess he can line item veto some of these items but we don’t believe he will,” he said. “This is good news for the county.”