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School system holds line on property taxes despite state shortfall

Seven McDuffie County residents attended the first two public hearings for the 2008 millage rate for the Board of Education. A third and final hearing is scheduled at 6 p.m. tonight at the BOE Central Offices on North Lee Street in Thomson. The board will vote on the rate in a called meeting at 6:30 p.m.

"I was very pleased with the format, it was very open," said Greg Derry, a Thomson resident who attended the second hearing. "But it was a moot point because it's the only option that they have."

Although the school board is not raising the millage rate, neither are they lowering it, according to Superintendent Mark Petersen. The rate has remained at 15.3 mills since 2003.

"That will be five consecutive years holding the line, so I'm real proud of the efforts there," BOE Comptroller Tom Smalley said in a previous meeting. "I think that speaks real well of the conservative nature of the budget."

Not changing the rate means property owners who are reassessed will see an increase in taxes, and those not reassessed will see no change.

"Just because I have a warranty deed at the courthouse doesn't mean they can squeeze more money out of me," Mr. Derry said. "But I don't blame that on the school board or anybody."

Placing blame, however, is no problem for Dr. Petersen. The presentation given at the public hearings showed that there has been no increase in funds from the state in the past 18 years, even though expenses, such as energy costs, have increased significantly. Dr. Petersen said he would like to see more citizens attend the monthly board meetings so they can understand what is going on.

"The public doesn't understand that the state is not doing its proportional fair share according to the constitution," he said. "The reports don't show that they take money from one program and reassign it somewhere else."

One example of increased expenses is that each year, the state provides $40 per student to purchase text books for one high school subject. Dr. Petersen said he recently signed a requisition for replacing economic books that cost $76 each.

Operating costs have skyrocketed even greater, according to Dr. Petersen. He said in 2005, the state provided $298 per enrolled student for facility maintenance, when the system actually spent $635 per student.

"And the taxpayer must make up the difference," he said. "What other options do we have?"

Dr. Petersen said one option being considered by state legislature is doing away with property taxes and implementing an additional sales tax. Also, McDuffie County is involved with other school systems in a lawsuit against the state for inadequate funding.

"My goal is for the public to understand," he said. "We are in fact standing up for boys and girls ... and the state is short changing our boys and girls. ... I have the finest staff there is. I'd compare my staff with any in the state. We need to tell the state no more unfunded mandates."

Web posted on Thursday, August 23, 2007

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