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Late digest blamed for $150,000 flux

The McDuffie County school system's financial hole keeps getting deeper.

School officials announced last week that the school system lost out on $150,000 of state funding due to the tardiness of the McDuffie County tax digest.

What makes the announcement even more significant is that officials were already expecting an extremely tight budget year due to massive cuts from the state level.

"It's complicated," Superintendent of Schools Ed Grisham said. "There's only a limited number of options you have. You can't spend more than you have, so we'll have to do whatever is necessary to maintain a balanced budget."

One of the things the system will be doing is attempting to get the $150,000 restored. But Dr. Grisham said the chances of that happening were barely above 50 percent.

"We are working our hardest to get it restored, but there's no guarantee," he said. "We're going to do everything we can. We earned it, but it wasn't budgeted because they were late with the digest."

The board sent a letter to the tax assessor's office to explain the consequences to the school system and to express its frustration with the tardiness of the digest.

The state rewards school systems that raise their property tax millage rate above 15 mills. With equalization earnings, $150,000 would have gone to McDuffie County Schools. The deadline to notify the state of the increase so that the incentive could be paid was the end of November.

The digest was due on Aug. 1, but it was not submitted until Dec. 8.

Nine counties of 159 in Georgia made the deadline, but only 15 counties turned in their digest after McDuffie County. The tax assessor's office was fined $15,000 for missing the deadline.

"I just regret that there was any kind of a penalty that was put upon the board of education because of the digest being late," said McDuffie County Chief Assessor Katherine Perry.

While the lost $150,000 is a significant problem, it represents only a fraction of the dollars that have been cut and will be cut from the McDuffie County school system.

Last year the school system lost close to $900,000 as a result of two separate 2.5 percent reductions. This year, the state will cut back five percent, or around $800,000 total, all at once.

Dr. Grisham said that there are several steps the school system will take in the next year or so to combat the declining dollars.

"What I'm sure we'll have to do for next fiscal year is three things: We'll have to reduce personnel some more. Number two, we still have a little bit of an operating reserve left, and we'll have to dig into that even more, though that's dangerous because once you run out, you don't have anything for emergencies that come up. Thirdly, there's a possibility we'll have to have another tax increase next year if something doesn't change."

Last year the school board raised the millage rate from 14.5 to 15.3 mills.



Web posted on Thursday, January 22, 2004


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