The news out of the McDuffie County School System is just what every property owner wants to hear.
The property tax millage rate will likely stay the same next year, according to the preliminary fiscal year 2005 budget. Figures for next year's budget were presented to the McDuffie County Board of Education at a budget work session last week.
School System Comptroller Tom Smalley and Superintendent of Schools Ed Grisham told board members that smaller-than-expected state budget cuts and an unexpected increase in tax revenue for the current year would more than likely prevent the necessity of raising the millage rate. The school system's fiscal year begins July 1.
"That's the projection at this time," Dr. Grisham said. "Of course, some factors could come into play to change that, but as it appears now, we don't think it will be necessary to request a millage rate increase."
The school system is also on track to use only 94 percent of the funds budgeted for this school year. The fund balance of 6 percent, which equals $1,634,834, will go toward next year's budget.
"Before 9/11, we were gradually building up our fund balance even higher because you always want to be able to take care of emergencies," Dr. Grisham said. "Of course when the economy started turning down and the state started cutting back on funding, we've had to rely on that fund balance to carry us into the next fiscal year."
During the current school year, austerity funding reductions from the state cut the amount the McDuffie County School System received by 5 percent. This triggered a property tax increase of 0.8 mils -- from 14.5 to 15.3 -- to make up some of the difference in funding.
For FY05, the cuts from the state will be much less severe, according to Mr. Smalley. He said that austerity reductions were originally forecast at five percent, but after state revenue was higher than expected, the reduction will probably be closer to one percent.
"That should help us," Mr. Smalley said. "That's taking a lot of pressure off the budget as far as having to possibly require more money locally."
Although the school system's largest expense will increase next year, the budget that Dr. Grisham presented to the board addressed that issue. Salaries account for 87.1 percent of the FY04 budget. That figure will increase to 88.3 percent in the FY05 budget.
The state has implemented a raise for all school system employees. Raises for teachers will start in January of 2005. Also an extra experience step was added into the pay scale by the state which will affect upper administration.