County charging schools additional money

By Greg Gelpi

The Clayton County school system which had to reduce its budget following state funding cuts will face reductions in local funding as well.

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to raise the fee charged to the school system to collect taxes from 1.6 percent to 2.5 percent.

Clayton County Board of Education attorney Gary Sams said he would "absolutely" challenge the fee increase if the county attempts to collect it.

For the current fiscal year, the school system budgeted $119,480,000 in collections from local property taxes. A 0.9 percent increase would be an increase of more than $1 million. The higher fees will begin being collected Jan. 1.

"My position is clear that the county does not have the legal authority," Sams said. "It's clear that they can't do anything to ?affect' the school board."

The county is using Home Rule to impose the increase, but he said that the rule doesn't allow counties to "affect" school systems.

"I just have to chuckle that this doesn't affect the school system," Sams said.

County Attorney Don Comer interprets that to mean that the county can't "affect" the school system's operations, but added that it would certainly affect the school system financially.

"It's something that the board has been contemplating for a number of years," Comer said. "Needless to say both the county and the school system need as much revenue as possible. It all goes to the benefit of the taxpayer. It would definitely allow the county to consider lowering its millage rate."

The county finance department directed all questions to Comer, who said he didn't know what physically had to be done to collect taxes.

Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray said that the county's municipalities already pay 2.5 percent and that the school system should be no different.

"Every superintendent that has come along I have told them we've got to do this," Bray said. "I even made it go into effect next year, so I did them a favor."

Sams said that he isn't sure if the increase has anything to do with the failed joint venture to build an aquatic center, but called the timing "odd."

"Everybody needs more money," Sams said. "If it was to retaliate, that would certainly surprise me."

The county and school system parted ways on a joint venture to build an aquatic center earlier this summer. The county billed the school system about $500,000 for design and planning costs, but the school system is questioning the costs.

"They're trying to repeal the '83 law by this action," Sams said.

The county had charged the school system 2.5 percent, but the school system took the county to court in 1983 and settled on 1.6 percent, where it remained until earlier this month.

The county and school system agreed to the 1.6 percent before the court ruled, Comer said in the county's defense.

According to the law that was passed in 1983, "the tax commissioner in Clayton County shall remit all education funds collected by him to the board of education of Clayton County, except for 1.60 percent of those funds which he is to remit to the governing authority of Clayton County to reimburse the county for the expenses incurred in collecting school taxes."

Sams said that he would wait until the county begins collecting the increased fee, then would take action to challenge it.