The chorus of “amens” filling the room made a public hearing on the millage rate seem more like a church service than a government meeting.
The Bartow County School Board held the hearing Monday night to give residents a chance to sound off on its proposal to keep the millage at the current rate of 19.2 mills instead of lowering it to the rollback rate of 18.74 mills.
Thirteen speakers addressed Superintendent Dr. John Harper and the five school board members during the 45-minute hearing, some detailing how their taxes increased this year after their property was reassessed and others asking the board to eliminate school taxes for seniors.
Many people in the nearly full board room showed they agreed with the speakers with “amens” and “that’s rights” and applause.
Chief Financial Officer Megan Brown made a short presentation at the beginning of the hearing to show how a property’s net value and school taxes were calculated. She also showed how school taxes could go up or down, even if the millage rate stayed the same, if the property was reassessed at a higher or lower value.
Michelle Pate of Cartersville said she bought her house in 2002, and almost every year since, there’s been a reassessment or “some kind of increase” in her property taxes.
“It’s starting to become a burden for my family, and it’s decreasing the quality of our life,” she said, noting her diabetic husband and her son with two chronic illnesses require expensive medications. “If we can lower the millage rate or find out another way to get the money that we need for education, it would help a lot of people. ... It would really help my family and the quality of our life if we didn’t get a tax increase every year.”
Cartersville resident Laurie Faultz asked the board to look at the situation with rental-property owners and their renters.
While doing some investigating, she said she discovered that rental-property values in her neighborhood were less than homeowners’ property values.
“[The rental-property] houses were valued at $50,000 less than all of them in the neighborhood,” she said. “When the land value went up, none of theirs went up. When you go across the board, they’re getting a cut in their taxes or paying no increases for, I’m talking decades. ... What’s happening with the rental-property people is that they’re getting a special treatment on their taxes, for whatever reason.”
She also brought up the fact that the people who rent these houses are sending their children to school for free since renters don’t have to pay school taxes.
Charles Cardia of Cartersville said he wanted to see the school district budget because there’s “got to be places we can trim the budget, just like in my house.”
“When we start running out of money, we start trimming the budget,” he said. “We start eating more pinto beans and cornbread, and we put away the fatback because we can’t afford to buy fatback. If we have to do it, I really think the school board should find ways to do it also.”
John Katrek of White wanted to know who gave the board the authority to change its budget or millage rate.
“Any increase in millage should be subject to a public vote also,” he said. “It shouldn’t be your decision. I mean, it’s our money. We should vote on it, not you.”
He also said the board’s job was to “live within your budget and make it work.”
“If you can’t live within your budget and make it work, maybe it’s time for some of you to be replaced,” he said.
He also supported eliminating school taxes for seniors, saying more money should start coming in soon when “these tax-exempt corporate freeloaders that are all getting tax breaks” have to start paying taxes, “so you shouldn’t really miss the seniors.”
White resident Maureen Fulmer, a Cobb County native, said she loves Bartow County, “but I don’t like having to pay school tax.”
“In Cobb County, when you’re 62, you pay no more school tax,” she said. “... I would just like for you to think of the seniors, really think of us.”Frank Johnson of Cartersville said other counties around Bartow have school-tax exemptions for seniors, and “seniors in this county need to have the same opportunity.”
“[This is] one thing that needs to be addressed,” he said. “If you don’t, you’re going to start losing senior citizens. Whenever they start downsizing, they’re going to other counties, and we’re going to have take a look at that at some point if we’re going to try to avoid that.”
After the hearing, board Chairwoman Anna Sullivan said she was “grateful to have the community’s participation in our discussions.”
“This not only helps us in our decision-making but also in clarifying any misperceptions,” she said. “Several speakers indicated they believe we are increasing the millage rate. That is absolutely not the case. The proposed millage rate under discussion is the same as last year’s rate. There is no change requested in the millage rate.
“Dr. Harper’s recommendation to maintain that rate is an effort to continue moving our school system in a positive financial direction, which includes the goals of a consistently balanced budget, the adequate reserve fund required by law and a competitive salary scale for our teachers. These three goals follow several years of cuts throughout our system at all levels and provide a strong foundation for our future in this community.”
The board will have the last of its three public hearings on the proposed millage rate Monday, Aug. 15, at 5 p.m., followed by a called meeting to adopt the final rate, in the central office board room at 65 Gilreath Road in Cartersville.