Paulding school board building

Paulding County School Board has approved a property tax rate for its 2020 budget lower than 2019 after its members debated what the revenue being lost could have bought and their responsibility to taxpayers.

The board on Tuesday, June 25, voted to approve a property tax rate of 18.750 mills, which is a reduction from the current 18.879 mills in place since 2014.

The vote was unanimous with board member Nick Chester absent.

Its approved 18.750-mill rate will produce $83.8 million in local funding for Paulding schools’ 2020 budget, district finance officials said.

Board member Theresa Lyons said keeping the current rate of 18.879 mills would have produced an extra $577,000,which she said was equal to one family not drinking an extra soft drink per week.

“When you put that into perspective, ($577,000 is) a lot of pieces of paper,” she told board members. “And a lot of things that could be used in the classroom.”

“I have been against the rollback because of that -- because it’s miniscule to a family but profound to a district,” she said.

Lyons, who later voted for the decreased rate, said she believed the board cared about what the extra funds could have bought but also was dealing with a perception the board was not considering what it cost the public in taxes.

“We all are caught in a place where, ‘What is more important, ($577,000) or a Coke a week?’” Lyons said.

She went on to say the board should put more “trust” in Chief Finance Officer Steve Barnette and Superintendent Brian Otott “and not appear to be looking for something done wrong.”

Lyons said they and other department heads researched “every single detail of this district” before asking for funding.

“Trust, and let that trust be shown publicly,” she said.

Barnette had produced a “tentative” budget that assumed the higher tax rate. He later made about $2.7 million in cuts to allow for the lower rate the majority of the board wanted.

Board Chairman Jeff Fuller and Vice Chairman Kim Cobb said none of the cuts were in areas affecting the classroom.

Cobb also said the cuts -- in such areas as purchase of replacement buses -- may affect the district overall but the public wanted a decrease in the tax rate.

“It’s not about whether we trust Mr. Barnette or we trust Dr. Otott,” she said. “We were elected by the people to represent the people and the people were asking for a (tax rate) cut.

“It’s our job to represent the citizens of Paulding by working with (district leadership). It doesn’t mean we can’t ask questions, it doesn’t mean we don’t trust them.

“If we’re just going to rubber stamp everything, there’s no use in any of us sitting up here,” she said. “I’m tired of people saying we don’t trust people just because we’re representing the citizens.”

The board’s vote followed its last of three required public hearings on the millage rate.

State law required the hearings. It defined the board’s lower rate of 18.750 mills as a tax increase because the rate was higher than the full rollback rate of 17.395 mills.

Paulding’s tax digest was 9% higher than the previous year as property values increased. The tax digest is the total of all assessed values of taxable property inside the county.

Higher values mean some will pay more in property taxes unless the board approved the full rollback rate, which was calculated to produce about the same amount of revenue as 2019.

Paulding’s school district and government must rely more heavily on homeowners to fund basic services because the county has a smaller percentage of taxable industrial and commercial properties than neighboring counties like Bartow and Cobb.

The school district’s 2020 budget totals $355 million from all funds for 2020, which is a 7% increase from 2019. It is funded with a mix of local, state and federal funding.

The 2020 budget includes a 5% raise for all employees, as well as additional support for exceptional students, new math and fine arts learning materials, and an additional district safety officer among other educational improvements.

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