Board members Dr. Davis Nelson, Anna Sullivan and John Howard voted to increase the rate, while Fred Kittle opposed the motion. Board member Matt Shultz did not attend the meeting or cast a vote.
Superintendent Dr. John Harper said the tax impact of the increased 1.5 mills equates to a $40 increase on a $100,000 home.
Twelve residents spoke in three-minute time allotments concerning the proposal. The majority of speakers expressed opposition and cited financial burden as a common reason. Andrea Atkins said, as a grandparent raising grandchildren and someone who has been underemployed for the previous 4 1/2 years, she cannot afford a tax increase.
“Any increase hurts and makes a difference. Families in Bartow County are struggling just to survive,” Atkins said.
Robin Morrow, a teacher and resident of Bartow County, told the board her paycheck is less now than it was in 2008, even after earning a specialist degree. Morrow works a part-time job at a local restaurant in addition to her teaching career. She urged the board to approve the rate increase due to the effects the cuts have made on the system and the ripple effect felt in the classroom.
Charles Lowry, an Emerson City Council member, proposed a possible solution to increasing the reserve fund.
“When a business comes into our town, it does mean more jobs,” Lowry said. “It also means more children coming into the school system when a company brings 300, 400, 500 employees into the county. If a company comes in here and gets abated school taxes, that money has to come from some place. ... I am tired of company’s coming to our community and not paying school taxes. We as a community need to let the development authority know if another company comes to Bartow, there will be no school tax abatement.”
Superintendent Dr. John Harper addressed the audience at the conclusion of the public hearing. He reviewed the information given at previous board meetings regarding the budget.
“Since 2003 Bartow County has lost over $50 million in austerity reductions, which is now known as the amended formula adjustment, from the state.
“In 2003 our millage rate was 19.20. In 2007 it was 18.38. In 2008 it was 17.90 and I was the superintendent who recommended the reduction. That 2008 rate has remained with us until now. ... We received $74,389,000 in state funding. Last year we received $57 million in state funding. ... The state has reduced its funding of our nursing support. In order for our school to maintain its current level of nurses, the cost to the local taxpayer is over $500,000 annually. ... Another area of reduction is in transportation. Taxpayers are paying over $5 million annually to transport our students. ... The state passed regulation requiring a portion of each speeding ticket to be used to support [driver’s education programs] and over $800 million was collected and not spent on driver’s education. High schools received none of that money; it went into the state general fund.”
Fred Kittle gave his objections for opposing the vote.
“It is time we have a balanced budget policy where our budget has to be balanced and where we have a certain fund reserve at some point in time. Even if we have to do some kind of gradual measures to get to it. ... When you are spending at a $2 million deficit, we’re counting a lot on the growth to make up the difference. ... Traditionally, there is a budget retreat where we can go over this line by line but in reality it may not happen that way.”