The Putnam County Board of Education’s budget is around $1.5 million more than last year’s budget, and School Superintendent Eric Arena credits the increase to a rise in healthcare and retirement benefits for employees, lower sales tax revenues and school safety.
Two public hearings were held Monday for the school system’s annual budget. Two people attended the noon hearing, and only one person attended the 6 p.m. hearing.
As he began the presentation Monday evening, Arena told the woman that since she was the only person present, to consider the presentation “a conversation, and feel free to ask questions any time while I’m talking.”
The woman signed in for public input, but never asked a question or said anything during the hearing.
Arena emphasized that the school system’s $34 million budget is based on anticipated revenues and expenditures. The system’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.
“Before we even turn the page, on July 1 the budget will automatically increase $1.2 million for the teacher retirement system, health insurance and salary schedules,” he said, noting the increase was projected to be $1,238,000 more in 2019 than it was the previous year and has doubled since 2010.
Regarding revenue from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, Arena noted the tax can only be used for pre-appointed, specific projects, mainly renovation of facilities, transportation, technology and maintenance. He gave a now oft-repeated explanation given by all Putnam government officials, and said SPLOST collections have decreased from $5 million in 2012 to $2.5 million now, due to the closing of Georgia Power’s Plant Branch. The electric company used to pay sales tax on all the coal it purchased to use at the plant in electrical energy production.
He showed various charts revealing decreases in funds from the state, including Fair Share, austerity cuts and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Funds, and pointed out that Putnam’s student enrollment has increased from 2,700 in 2008 to 2,900 in 2019.
“It is our hope this economy continues to grow and that our digest will continue to grow and our millage rate will go down,” he said.
Arena said the BOE had set aside $500,000 for school safety improvements, but it is not yet determined if that money will be spent, or how.
The BOE’s current millage rate is 14.269, and the proposed rate for 2018-2019 is 16.269.
BOE Chairman Dr. Steve Weiner noted the board had not raised its millage rate in the past five years, and the budget is based on a plan and goal to keep the same mill rate for several years instead of incremental raises annually.
Weiner also pointed out that the county commission just began holding out a 2 percent commission for collecting the taxes, even though the cost of the service is less than half a percent.
“It will show up as a BOE tax on your tax statement, but the BOE will never receive it,” he said.
Another public hearing will be held at the BOE office at 5 p.m. Monday Aug. 20 prior to the board’s monthly meeting in which it is expected to approve the budget and set the millage rate.