By Trina Trice
The Clayton County Board of Education is close to deciding whether or not it will approve an 8.26 percent property tax increase.
The proposed tax increase comes at a time when school board members have spent more than $2,400 on lodging and other expenses while attending various conferences and the two-day board retreat in July.
The budget adopted by the school board requires a millage rate higher than the rollback millage rate.
For the 2004 budget totaling $327.3 million, the millage increases from 17.916 to 18.916.
Lee Davis, chief financial officer for Clayton County Schools, insists that a tax increase is necessary, primarily because the revenue received from the state has been reduced by over $10 million in the past two years.
The school board is holding the last of three public hearings on the issue which are required by law.
"Everyone is in the system is spending 10 percent less than what they did three years ago," Davis said. "Everything's gone up."
At the second hearing last week Board member LaToya Walker suggested that the school system explore decreasing the tax by a half mill.
Board member Barbara Wells didn't think it was possible.
"We can't go back and re-do the budget," she said. "We did it with that mill (increase). It's done."
Davis supported the tax increase further by saying the school system hasn't raised the millage rate in since 1992.
The millage rate, even at 18.916, is still one of the lowest in the metro Atlanta area.
Clayton County Schools parent David Barton doesn't see any reason for the tax increase, though. He calls the county and school system's attempts to raise taxes "double-dipping."
"I'm personally not for a mill ratio increase," he said. "I don't think the two bodies of government are working together. They just need to get together with the tax assessor's office because the money is there. Someone is not coordinating to find out how much."
Rodney McDaniel, chief assessor for the Clayton County Tax Assessment Office, asserts that his office does not work directly with the school system. Instead, tax assessors create the current year's tax digest after assessing or reassessing property values.
Each year, the board of tax assessors is required to review the assessed value for property tax purposes of taxable property in the county. When the trend of prices on properties that have recently sold in the county indicates there has been an increase in the fair market value of any specific property, the board of tax assessors is required by law to re-determine the value of such property and increase the assessment. This is called a reassessment.
One mill equals $1 in tax collected for each $1,000 in assessed value of property.
With a 1-mill increase without a millage rollback, a taxpayer who owns a home worth $100,000 could expect a $30 increase in taxes, from $537 to $567.
The county's general fund millage rate could go up by .307 mills.
For the owner of a $150,000 home in one of the cities within Clayton County, a general fund increase of .307 mills would translate to an increase of about $16 in the owner's tax bill.
With the board considering a tax increase, their spending has remained unchanged.
While attending the two-day retreat facilitated by the Georgia School Boards Association, four board members stayed at a hotel. The retreat was in Lawrenceville, approximately 45 miles from Jonesboro.
Lodging for the four cost $701.73. That price includes lodging for Ernest White, a former president of the National Caucus of Black School Board Members, a part of the National School Boards Association.
At the retreat, White asserted he was invited by the board to attend, but the board did not vote to pay for any portion of his lodgings.
Board Chairwoman Nedra Ware, Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens, and member Carol Kellam spent two nights at a hotel for the retreat. Board member LaToya Walker spent one night.
Lodging for White was also paid by the school system for the National School Boards Association conference in June.
His room at the Callaway Inn Front in Pine Mountain, Ga. cost $227.90, after he paid a portion of the cost.
Around the same time Kellam attended a new school board member orientation in Savannah in June, which is required by state law.
She spent $802.38 on lodging and other expenses. She also signed for a $60 buffet meal for three people.
While at a conference for the National School Boards Association in San Francisco in April, Ware spent $721.30. That amount included three nights of lodging worth $567 and room service costing $74.65. Interim Superintendent Dr. William Chavis spent $894.18, including four days of occupancy and a movie that cost $12.98.