SUWANEE -- A unanimous vote at Thursday's board of education meeting meant formal approval of a $1.7 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2014.
In addition, the Gwinnett County Public Schools officials tentatively adopted a millage rate increase of 1.30 mills over the previous year's rate.
For the owner of a $150,000 home in Gwinnett County, it would mean an additional increase of $76 over the previous year's school property taxes. For those who escrow property tax, it would mean an additional $6.33 per month.
Chief Financial Officer Rick Cost told the board of education during Thursday's meeting that the action was needed in order to combat a declining tax digest as well as "generate revenue and cash needed to meet debt service payments."
If approved for final adoption next month, a millage rate hike from GCPS would be the first in eight years.
"We've been through a tremendous downturn in the economy," Cost said. "You have been able to avoid this for all those years prior ... delaying what is the inevitable. For that, you should be congratulated that we didn't have to do this sooner."
The millage rate is made up of "two pieces," Cost said.
For the debt service fund -- which Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks likened to a "mortgage payment" -- Cost and his staff recommended an increase of .75 mills. For the other component of the millage rate, maintenance and operations, an increase of .55 mills was recommended.
Cost said the "same economic conditions that apply to debt service apply to M&O millage as well."
The total 1.30 increase would put the school board's millage rate at 21.85.
The tax assessor's final 2013 digest estimate will be received prior to the final millage rate adoption, which is slated for the June 20 board of education meeting.
One local parent had some questions about a possible tax hike.
"If we end up getting a millage rate increase, and tax revenues come in better (than expected), you'll end up with surplus funds," said Craig Lownes, a speaker during the public hearing.
Wilbanks responded that he "wouldn't refer to it as a surplus. I would refer to it as an overly-budgeted amount, and (if that happened) we could look at things we wouldn't have been able to do before."
Cost said that current recommendations included in plans for the FY2014 budget will only be possible through the planned millage rate increase.
The recommendations include the elimination of all furlough days, which will cost $8.6 million and the addition of 18 additional school resource officers -- one for every cluster -- at $1.7 million.
Measures recommended by the superintendent to balance the budget include the following: continuation of a district-level hiring freeze; no restoration of the 54 central office positions eliminated during FY 2013; continuation of district-level operating budget cuts from the past four years; carryover expenditures included in the FY 2013 mid-term budget; and class size ratios for teacher "point" allotments will remain the same for the 2013-14 school year.
In order to balance the enterprise fund, which reflects the GCPS school nutrition program, the superintendent is also recommending a 25-cent increase in meal prices next year. New lunch prices will be $2.25 for elementary and $2.50 for middle and high school.