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There is much to be thankful for in difficult times

This is the time of year that we need to take a few moments to reflect on the many things that we are blessed with and for which we should be grateful. Some that come to mind are our faith, family, safety, food, shelter, friends, job, education, community, country, veterans, military personnel, nature, technology, our experiences and our hopes for a bright future. While we all may not possess each of these tremendous assets, hopefully, many of us do.

During the holiday season, it is our tradition to not only give thanks for our blessings, but we also place an even greater emphasis on celebrating our individual beliefs, faiths and religion. During this time of year, I wish all of you much happiness, peace, joy and prosperity for the coming year.

The past 18 months have been extremely challenging for all of us. Our economic way of life has been capsized by a failing banking industry, a dismal housing market, a collapsed stock market, an automotive industry meltdown, corporate scams and thieves, staggering unemployment, and numerous other obstacles that make things even more difficult for middle class America. There are no quick fixes. Federal bailouts may or may not help the total picture. We all have our personal beliefs in that regard.

There remain a few facts that I feel compelled to again share with you as you walk to your mailbox and open your local property tax bills. In nearly every instance, the bill will be more than last year. On average, each homeowner will pay an additional $200 in property tax this year. Why, you will no doubt ask? Who is to blame? The answer is not easy to follow. But, I want to attempt to add some clarity to the picture.

For many years now, the state legislature and the governor have approved the "Homeowners Tax Relief Grant" also referred to as the Homestead Exemption. This grant was applied to your local property tax bill, in essence saving you, on average, about $200 annually. During last year's General Assembly, the Governor and Legislature decided to eliminate the grant, or at least not to fund the grant, effectively passing the expense directly back to the local entities.

It should be noted that on Nov. 19, the McDuffie County Board of Education voted to freeze the local millage rate. By not increasing the millage, our school system stands to lose approximately $367,383 in revenue for our schools. As a result of last year's tax digest revaluation, numerous appeals were conducted. Those appeals, combined with other economic reasons, caused our local net tax digest to decrease from $589,575,014 to $574,895,322. That decrease in the local digest equates to a local tax levy for our schools of $9,882,451 or a net loss of $252,343. We have further calculated a 98 percent collection rate, due to the state of the economy. The total net decrease in anticipated local revenue is $367,383.

The amount formerly allocated to McDuffie County homeowners through the Homeowner's Tax Relief Grant was $654,112. Consequently, the decrease in the local digest combined with the elimination of the state funded Homeowner's Tax Relief Grant will cause the McDuffie County School system to lose $1,021,495.

These calculations do not even begin to account for the other massive and continuous cuts in state funding for public education. I will share more data on that at another time.

For now, my intention is to inform our local taxpayers that a tax increase was not implemented by your local Board of Education. The governor and state legislature eliminated the Homestead Exemption and that is what has caused your tax bill to increase. Locally, we have worked hard to cut expenditures and we will continue to do so.

State funding has been cut for the past six years and finally, those cuts have entered the classroom in the form of reduced pay for teachers and administrators, furloughs for all employees, and some positions not being filled when they are vacated. More cuts are inevitable. State revenue for October was down 17 percent. Future state funding cuts could occur as early as January. Presently, we have no definitive answers from Atlanta other than what I have already shared.

I hate to be the bearer of negative information. I hate to sound like I am constantly poor mouthing and talking about budgetary woes. The reality is what it is and we need not stick our head in the sand and hope it will go away.

As we enter the 2010 budget planning sessions, we must prepare for more cuts and we must find more ways to reduce expenditures. We will continue to do more with less. We will serve our mission, we will provide for our students, and we will continue to be one of the best school systems in Georgia. We have extraordinary teachers. We have a cohesive community. We have a forward thinking and dedicated Board of Education. And you have a School Superintendent committed to our students, community and schools. I am not afraid to share information, speak up about the issues, and call it like I see it. I believe in full disclosure and open communications.

I hope this information is received in the manner that it was intended. The community deserves to know what is going on and I welcome the opportunity to share.

My family and I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season. Yes, we all have much to be thankful for even during challenging times such as these.



Web posted on Thursday, December 10, 2009













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