No Public at Public Hearings on BOE Tax Increase

Nobody showed up Thursday for the Dade BOE's hearings on the millage rate except the BOE and its financial advisor, Doug Eza.

Dade County Commission Chairman Ted Rumley pointed out to taxpayers who attended last week’s public hearings on the county’s fiscal year 2018 millage rate that the school board, which sets its own millage rate, adds much more to their property tax bill than the county government.

“They’re the heavy hitter in this,” said Rumley. “But when they have a hearing there won’t be two people.”

In fact, there was not one.

The Dade County Board of Education, like the Dade County Commission, opted not to increase its millage (taxation) rate this year but to “accept the growth” in property values rather than roll the rate back further to keep taxes constant. For the county commission, that decision is projected to increase property taxes on a $100,000 home by $3.72. For the school board, Doug Eza, the board’s financial advisor, projected an increase of just under $7 a year on a $125,000 home. By The Planet’s shaky math, that translates to a $5.60 increase on a $100,000 home.

In both cases, that was enough of a tax increase to require public hearings. At the three the county commission held in July for the $3.72, a dozen or so friendly but concerned taxpayers turned out to question the commissioners. But the two the school board held on Thursday for the $5.60, at noon and 6 p.m., were skipped by the public entirely.

In the absence of public input, the school board at its noon hearing heard a presentation by advisor Eza on why it should, as recommended by Schools Superintendent Jan Harris, keep its rate constant at 15.509 rather than rolling it back. He went over projected increased costs to the system going into 2019 and beyond and stressed that the tax increase generated by leaving the millage rate as is was not that much. “To me, it’s a small price for the citizens of Dade County to pay to maintain quality education,” said Eza.

Board Chair Carolyn Bradford commented that it seemed wiser to accept the small uptick in taxes this year than to fall short and have to ask for a two-mill increase in some later year, and board member Johnny Warren agreed: “We would be foolish to give that small amount back.”

Eza pointed out that local taxing agencies--such as Dade’s three, the city of Trenton, Dade County, and Dade Board of Education--are required to hold public hearings for even small tax increases such as this one, whereas the state of Georgia does no such thing. “Their money is sacred,” he said. “Yours is not.”

The advisor, who is leaving this year, said Georgia should obey the rules it sets for the smaller governments. “What is good for us ought to be good for the state,” said Eza.

He said the BOE’s costs for Teachers Retirement will go up considerably this year and more the next. Meanwhile, health insurance for noncertified employees, for which the state does not reimburse the system, will go up $150 a person per month.

Eza said the portion of motor vehicle taxes that flows to the BOE is expected to get smaller. He also went over a fantastically complicated formula for “equalization” money from the state--funds Georgia doles out to lower-property-tax counties to allow them to offer public education comparable to richer counties. The good news there seemed to be that that is expected to go up for Dade going forward.

Board members listened to Eza’s financial calculations with some pertinent questions and some crossed eyes. Johnny Warren appeared to share Eza’s frustration with the state, commenting at one point: “Georgia says we have a public school system. If it’s a public school system, then fund it.”

General Bob Woods urged Eza to boil his presentation down a little for the evening hearing, to make it more accessible to taxpayers. “The public is not going to sign up for it if it takes a big explanation,” said the general.

In fact, it would appear that in Dade County the public signs up with or without one. Again, not one member of the public was in evidence at either of the Aug. 3 hearings.

The BOE is required to hold one more public hearing before finalizing its rate. That will be at 5:30 p.m. next Thursday, Aug 10, after which the board is scheduled to hold a special called meeting to approve the rate. The hearing will be at the Dade Board of Education office in front of the high school on Highway 136 East.

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