School board votes to drop millage rate slightly

The Grady County Board of Education has agreed to reduce the millage rate levied against local taxpayers to fund the 2017-2018 school budget. During a special called meeting Tuesday evening, the board voted unanimously to drop the millage from 14.2 to 13.8 to fund its proposed $42 million budget. Despite the lower millage, the school system expects to collect 3.43 percent more in taxes than last year due to growth in Grady County’s property tax digest.
As required by law, the school board must advertise the proposed budget and hold three public hearings before the spending plan can be approved officially. Two public hearings are scheduled for Aug. 8, one at 7:30 a.m. and the second at 6 p.m. The third public hearing will take place on Aug. 15 at 7:30 a.m. with the final budget adoption taking place at 8 a.m. All meetings and hearings will take place at the VanLandingham Center, 203 N. Broad St.
Dan Broome, finance officer for the Grady County Board of Education, advised the board that paring down the millage rate too much would be playing with fire given the uncertainty of future state funding and the certainty of increased teacher retirement costs.
Recalling the last time the board reduced the millage when the tax digest increased, Broome said two years later the economy bottomed out, the state cut its funding and the board had to raise the millage in order to balance the budget.
Veteran board member Teresa Gee Harris said that was a tough time. Harris cautioned, “All of us sitting in here is a taxpayer. I definitely want to save as much as everybody else, but if we have to raise it later because of the decision we make in here tonight . . .tax payers don’t forget tax increases.”
Broome said the board has worked hard to eliminate volatility in the millage rate, and for the last six years has successfully held the millage at 14.2.
Board member Laura Register said, “I think forward thinking is why we are where we are today (with the budget). It’s not fun when you have to raise taxes. People never forget it, and we all feel that pinch, too. I’m very excited that we can reduce the millage, but we need to be very prudent.”
Prior to the budget discussion, Dr. Kermit Gilliard, superintendent of Grady County Schools, had shared with the board a list of 21 projects that school principals had submitted for consideration with some being high priority including desks and chairs for the new 9th Grade Academy at Cairo High School, and the pressure washing and repainting of the ROTC building at CHS. These un-budgeted projects will be paid for out of the school system’s $5 million general fund balance.
“We need to keep in mind, not just this list discussed tonight, but keep thinking about things that might affect us, such as teacher retirement and the need for more buses, to keep us out of trouble in the future,” said board chairman, Robbie Chaplin.
John White, board vice chairman, said technology costs should remain top of mind. “I’m thinking it would be bad to have this nice, new college and career academy building and not have the technology needed for the classrooms (inside the building),” White said.
Gilliard recommended the board approve the 2017-2018 school system budget of $42,042,576 and a millage rate of 13.8. Vice chairman White moved to accept the recommendation and Register seconded the motion.
During discussion before the unanimous vote, board member Jeff Worsham said, “Even though I would like to see the millage at 13.7 or lower, if possible, I will not vote against a reduction in the millage rate. But, for the record, I would have liked to see it go a little bit lower.”
Some of the other projects requested by principals of Grady County schools but not acted upon Tuesday, include a camera system for certain special education classrooms to monitor activity; fencing at the CHS band practice field; roof work at the CHS Media Center and at the old gymnasium; fencing at Shiver Elementary School; work to repair drainage issues in front of the concession stand at West Thomas Stadium; choir risers/shell for CHS; microphones for the CHS auditorium; demolition/renovation of the old elementary wings at Southside Elementary School; privacy fencing at Southside; air conditioning of the gymnasiums at both Washington Middle School and Whigham Elementary School.
Gilliard pointed out that other schools are scheduled to receive SPLOST money for scheduled facilities’ projects.
Worsham reported that he had been told the floor of the weight room at CHS was cracked and in need of repair. Gilliard said he had heard the Touchdown Club had asked why the school system had not planned to replace the flooring. Gilliard said prior to hearing the Touchdown Club’s concern he was unaware of the need.
“Seems like we need a better process or make sure everybody fully understand the process, because it is a lot cheaper to repair things before they become a major issue,” said Vice Chairman White.
Worsham said even if the project is not funded immediately, reporting a needed project would at least put it on the superintendent’s “radar.”
Gilliard said he would remind principals at their next scheduled meeting to submit work orders any time there is a facility need.
The board met behind closed doors Tuesday night to conduct the regularly scheduled evaluation of the superintendent.

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