I was one of only a few taxpayers who attended the evening public hearings held by the Effingham County Board of Education in an attempt to understand the board’s decision to raise the school taxes by 9.39 percent. The lack of public interest in the board’s meetings was disappointing since they are responsible for more than 55 percent of our tax bill.
Providing our children a solid education is very important as it is a basis of their successes in adulthood. However, a balance needs to occur between the educational expenditures and the burden of taxation being placed on the county taxpayers. It seems the increase in total revenue of about 14 percent the BOE would have received from local taxpayers without raising the taxes should have been sufficient instead of the projected 24 percent after the increase. The board’s presentation caused additional questions and concerns that were voiced during the final meeting:
While the Board tried to make one think we are getting substantially less money from the state, the per student amount paid by the state since 2002 has increased on average by about 7 percent per year.
How does the increase in GHSGT scores justify raising our taxes? These scores were obtained with taxes that we paid previously. If the increase in these scores justifies a tax increase, than does the fact that we had a 20 percent decrease in the students eligible for the HOPE scholarship justify a decrease?
While the student population has increased since 2002 about 17.5 percent, the increase in local revenue the BOE receives from taxes has increased over 70 percent and will have doubled after the current increase.
The board indicated the average local expenditure per student is $2,066.91, considerably below the state average of $3,336.28. However, comparing us to the state average is like comparing apples to oranges. Unfortunately, our county has an equalized property wealth per student of only $90,697, ranking it at 130 out of 180 school systems in the state. We do not need to be compared to counties with equalized wealth per student sometimes three to four times as large as ours. If you compare us to the 11 Georgia counties surrounding Effingham, the ratio of property wealth to student expenditures indicates that the Effingham County BOE has placed a heavier burden of taxes on the Effingham taxpayers than that of any of the surrounding counties. In addition, our school millage rate of 15.57 mills is significantly higher than the 2006 average of those counties which was about 12.6 mills. This doesn’t even include the additional local taxes we are paying for the school bond or the SPLOST.
It was also very concerning that the superintendent has written our state representatives a letter voicing opposition to a tax exemption for our senior citizens. Hopefully, when elections for three of the school board positions come due next year, the senior citizens and other county taxpayers will show their displeasure with this board and will vote appropriately.
During the meetings, the board was challenged to reconsider their decision to raise our school taxes. The board ignored the taxpayer’s concerns and instead continued to place a heavy tax burden on county residents. When property owners receive their actual tax bills in August, the first phone call they need to make is to their school board member since the majority of the increase we will be seeing is due to the board of education’s decision to not roll back the taxes as provisioned by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
Jerry McAtee Jr.