Shortfall may affect projects

By Trina Trice

The Clayton County school system is $14 million short in its collection of funds from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and may not be able to complete some building projects.

The school system is in its fourth year of a five-year timeline for a SPLOST passed in September 1999.

The system is supposed to collect $269.5 million.

An average of $3.9 million has been collected on a monthly basis, said John Ramage, assistant superintendent of facilities and maintenance.

Because of the country's slow economy and the trickle-down effect at the state level, the school system is "$14 million short of what we have collected" at this point, Ramage said.

Funds from the 1999 SPLOST are going to the various renovations, modifications, and classroom additions to 24 of the county's existing schools.

The Clayton County Board of Education recently approved such projects for Hendrix and Mt. Zion elementary schools.

"If the economy doesn't pick up, we may not be able to" complete some of the projects planned, Ramage said.

One such project is the school system's financial contribution of $3.5 million to the construction of a county Aquatic Center. The county government would have matched the amount to complete the project.

However, the school board has yet to commit the funds to the project, putting the Aquatic Center on hold.

The state posted a slight increase in tax collections in April for the third month in a row n another sign that Georgia could be climbing out of a recession.

"It's growth. It's good," said Henry Thomassen, the governor's economist. "It isn't much, but it's enough."

Figures released Wednesday by the Georgia Department of Revenue showed April's tax collections of $940 million were about $18 million, or 1.9 percent, above the collections for the same month a year ago.

That boosted tax collections for the first 10 months of the state's fiscal year to $10.1 billion, or about 2.3 percent below the total for the same period a year ago.

To keep the school system's revenue in check for next year, a millage rate increase has been recommended by Lee Davis, chief financial officer for Clayton County schools.

Davis told the board at a called meeting Thursday, "It's your decision" to raise the millage rate, "but in my opinion it needs to be done."

In the preliminary 2004 budget Davis presented to the board Thursday, a 1-mill increase from 17.916 to 18.916 is needed to produce $327.3 million of revenue, Davis said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.