Millage rate gets approval

CONYERS -- The Rockdale County Board of Education approved its first increased millage rate since 2003.

As suggested by Rockdale County Public Schools Superintendent Samuel King in his recommendation to the board during a special called work session Thursday night, the board approved a rate of 22.99. Board member Jeff Dugan was absent, and Don McKinney voted against the measure.

The new rate is an increase from the current 21 mills, which has been the rate since 2006. The millage has not been increased since 2003, when it went from 21.48 to 21.80. The next three years saw a decrease from 21.48 to 21.44 to 21, according to the tax digest history from the Rockdale County Tax Commissioner's Office.

Originally, the board expected to increase the rate to 23 mills but later said the needed increase might not to be as high. The new rate was calculated using a state form that is intended to provide the same property tax revenues between years. However, even with the increased rate, RCPS is expected to receive about $500,000 less than the previous school year, said RCPS Chief Financial Officer Lee Davis.

Davis said many Rockdale County residents will pay less than they did this year if the value of homes is decreased 10 percent or more, as projected.

School board member Brad Smith said the board had no other options.

"Yes, we raised the millage rate; however, most people will get a reduction on their school tax bill because of the offset in the value of properties," he said on Monday, adding that his home's tax rate might increase some this year. "We're cutting into the bone right now. We've cut the fat. And what may appear as fat to some is underfunded, and mandates put (the funding) on us by the federal and state governments. ... The local taxpayer is left holding the bag."

The millage rate will support a $126,024,971 budget, which the board approved in June.

The 2-mill increase will mean total local tax collections of $60,931,737 and result in no furlough days for school staff. Other options presented to the board earlier this year suggested a 1-mill increase for $58,431,737 locally with five furlough days to save $2.5 million or no increased millage rate to produce $55,931,737 locally with 10 furlough days for school staff to save $5 million.

The budget also includes $10,247,116 in budget cuts, which does not include a reduction in force, as any staff cuts were expected to occur through retirement and natural attrition.

Cuts included the elimination of a 4 percent contribution to the alternative retirement program to save about $3.6 million; a class size increase of about one student per class to save about $1.4 million; modifications to schools' points plans that provide teachers and paraprofessionals based on the transient rate and free and reduced lunch population to save $1.8 million; the continued reduction of 5 percent to non-salary budgets except for utilities to save about $400,000; the continued freezing of the computer replacement plan to save $1.2 million instead of replacing computers on a five-year cycle; the elimination of local funding for special education consultants to save more than $1 million; the elimination of a director of student services position that was recently vacated to save $112,000 in salary and benefits; the freezing of five vacant bus driver positions for $100,000 and the reclassification of director of purchasing to manager and shortening the workday for a business services bookkeeper for $29,000, among other smaller reductions.