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Forsyth, Georgia
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August 14, 2019     The Monroe County Reporter
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August 14, 2019
 

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August 14, 2019 Page 6C Forsyth plans to keep property taxes at 3 mills City offers to pay for safety features to keep crossing open By Diane Glidewell news©mymcnnet Forsyth set its preliminary millage rate for 2019 at 3 mills, the same as the last three years. That tax rate is expected to generate slightly more revenue than it did last year because of growth in the tax base. Each mill is expected to bring the city about $100,000 according to city manager Janice Hall. The preliminary millage rate is set so that it can be adver— tised and generate public input before the final rate is approved by city council. Legally, the city can reduce the preliminary rate but can’t increase it. Council member Mike Dodd motioned to keep the tax rate at 3 mills, and Chris Hewett seconded the motion. Council member John Howard said he wanted to set the preliminary millage rate at 4 and have a work session about what the city could do with the addi— tional $100,000. “We’re the type of council that has to hash things out,” said Howard. He said Forsyth has had a re— cent crime issue, and the Police Department is short—staffed. He would like to see Forsyth increase police officers’ salaries to make it more competitive with other law enforcement agencies, particularly with Monroe County Sheriff’s Of- fice. “Law enforcement is one of those things we take a hit for because we don’t have competi- tive pay," said council member Julius Stroud. “I think there’s an opportuni- ty to do that with 3 mills,” said council member Greg Goolsby. “We don’t have to use it the same way [as we have before] I’m all for us having a work session to discuss that.” Hall said she has talked with police chief Eddie Harris about using money already in the budget to increase otficers’ salaries. She explained that this is 2019 millage and council has already set the city budget for 2019. She said a pay increase for policemen is something council needs to work on as it sets the 2020 budget. Goolsby motioned to add an amendment that the money the city collects from property , taxes not be put in the general fund but rather be used for special projects. The city in— cluded this amendment for the last two years and used prop— erty taxes on recreation proj- ects. The amendment passed unanimously. Hall told council there are specific things they must do if they vote to increase the mill~ age rate, including advertising the increase and holding public hearings. She said she would talk to the tax assessors office to make sure the city follows all guidelines if council decided to increase the preliminary millage. “I made a motion for 3 mills for a reason,” said Dodd. “We’ve been trying to get it down for years. It was 5 mills and we got it down to 3 and it plateaued. I don’t want it to go back up.” Council voted unanimously to set preliminary millage at 3 mills. Date and time for a work session was discussed but not set. The council meeting sched- uled for Monday, Sept. 2 was changed to Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 6 pm. because of the Labor Day holiday. In other Forsyth Council news: - After a 40-minute closed door session to discuss “pend- ing litigation,’ the Forsyth city council authorized city attor- ney Bobby Melton to propose to Norfolk Southern Railroad that the city will pay to in- stall crossing arms and other features at the Indian Springs Drive crossing to keep it open. The motion, made by council member Greg Goolsby, passed unanimously without any discussion in open session, and the meeting adjourned imme- diately afterward. Council asked for and received a stay from Mon- roe County Superior Court Judge Tommy Wilson to delay Closing of the Indian Springs Drive crossing around June 18. The city filed a motion to appeal the closing requested by Norfolk Southern and ap— proved by Georgia Department of Transportation. The action was in response to a letter from DOT on June 5 telling the city to post notice of the closing 30 days after the signs went up. Subsequently there was a train—car collision at the cross- ing on July 17. Fortunately, there weren’t serious injuries. Norfolk Southern came to the city in the fall of 2018 offering almost $1 million for road and safety improvements at two remaining crossing if the city would close two of the four crossings in its city limits. After the city received public input asking to keep all four cross— ings open, Norfolk Southern returned with a counter offer for less money if one crossing were closed instead of two. Af— ter the city rejected that offer, Norfolk Southern asked DOT to order the closing, which it did. Throughout discussions council members had asked if Norfolk Southern or DOT could assist with any grants or other funding to add safety fea— tures without closing a crossing since they agreed the features were needed. Neither Norfolk Southern nor DOT responded to these requests, even in re— gard to crossings they were not asking to close. At public hearings, citizens said that all four crossings are used and that closing any of them would result in traf- fic problems that would cause safety issues because of in- creased use of the remaining crossings and not being able to cross in an emergency as well as constant inconvenience and detrimental effects on busi- nesses near the crossings. BOE keeps taxes the same for property owners By Diane Glidewell news©mymcrnet Monroe County Board of Education set its 2019 millage rate at 15.669 and its budget for its 2019-20 fiscal year at $44.4 mil- lion at a called meeting on Aug. 6. The millage is the “rollback” rate, which means it is expected to collect the same amount of taxes as 2018; property owners should not see an increase in the BOE portion of their bills. The total bills are a combina— tion of millage levied by the county, the school board and (if the property is in the city limits) the city of Forsyth. The school board’s 2018 millage was 15.176, but Assistant Superintendent Jackson Daniel told the board that at his meeting with the Monroe County tax assessor on Aug. 2, he was told that the county digest is up 3.5 percent over last and should bring in more revenue because “ of increased values. Each mill in 2019 should gener- ate $1.4 million. The school board pays the county 2.5 percent for billing and collecting the taxes. After that fee, the schools should get $21.5 million in local taxes. To that will be added $526,367 from. the For- est Land Protection Act grant, which Daniel said BOE will get in a lump sum this year. If BOE kept therate at 15.716 mills in— stead of the rollback rate, it would expect $64,488 more revenue for the year. Daniel presented‘a 2020 budget to the board on Aug. 6 that had increased 98,423 from the budget presented on June 25 as the school system got more exact numbers for expenditures and rev- enues. Expected revenue from the state increased almost $752,000. Al— though expenses for Sev~ eral categories decreased and it was decided not to transfer $400,000 out of the fund balance into the budget, there were increases in the expected cost for instruction, gen- eral administration and school administration. The fund balance is basi— cally the school system’s savings account and is what it uses each year to pay salaries and other expenses before taxes are paid at the end of the year. The state allows a maxi- mum fund balance of 15 percent of the system’s budget and recommends 12 percent. “We have used about $500,000 of the fund balance each year,” said Daniel. “I don’t know if we can keep doing this.” Because the school sys- tem will not take $400,000 out of its fund balance this year, it will need to borrow in the form of a Tax Anticipation Note (TAN). Daniel said when Monroe County Schools gets a TAN, it usually does so in September. Finance Director Chris Johnson said that the earlier Mon- roe County Schools gets the TAN, the more it will cost in interest. “One thing I really don’t like is the TAN,” said school board member Greg Head in discussion of setting the millage rate. “We do it very judi— ciously,” said Daniel. “People are willing to pay for a great school system,” said Head. Daniel said there are 50 pages of adjustments in the whole budget. Since the new school year started the school system has seen that it needs to hire another kindergarten teacher because the kin— dergarten cohort is bigger than expected with 24-26 students in classes. T.G. Scott Elementary was able to move a teacher from another pbsition to kin- dergarten, but K.B. Sutton needs to hire another kindergarten teacher. There are three vacant positions at Mary Per— sons. Principal Dr. Jim Finch has decided not to fill those positions until after the first semester. Daniel emphasized that the budget is always fluid. Monroe County Schools expect to get money the state has promised for safety at each school and possibly other state grants, but does not have ‘ these funds, yet, and can’t add them in the budget. There will be a public hearing on the millage on Thursday, Aug. 22 at 5:30 pm. at the Central Office board room, 25 Brooklyn Ave., Forsyth. After the public hearing the board plans to vote to finalize the millage. In other Board of Edu— cation news: o BOE also approved a Capital Outlay Proj- ect Application at its called meeting on Aug. 6. The project is to build four regular classrooms and four science labs at Monroe County Middle School for the 2020-21 school year. The expan- sion is needed because of having to close the William Hubbard cam- pus and move 6th grade onto the Banks Stephens campus with 7th and 8th grades at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. Director of Facilities and Maintenance Roger Onstott said the expan- sion is a $3.5 million project, and the state will ‘ fund-$985,000. There are also plans to expand the lunchroom at Monroe County Middle School, campus last year. but that is not part of the “There’s a bottle neck capital outlay project. getting the 8th grade in,” Superintendent Dr. said Onstott. “It’s a work Mike Hickman said there in progress.” is presently enough room for students at the middle school, but there probably will not be in a couple of years. Capacity is 930 and present enrollment is about 870. Some teachers are sharing classrooms rather than each teacher having his or her assigned classroom. He said the number of students per teacher is still relatively small. Hickman said the en- rollment for the district on the first day of school for 2019-20 was 4,146 compared to 4,070 on the first day of school last year. There were 3,900 students present on Aug. 5, the second day of school this year. Enroll- ment at Mary Persons, at 1,122, is lower than last year, but enrollment is . up at the elementary and middle schools. Efforts are continuing to improve traffic flow on Thornton Road after the addition of the 6th grade to that middle school NOTICE I ': ‘ Board member Priscilla Doster said that her expe- rience takingstudents to school the first three days has been positive. Hick— man said that traffic im- proved each of the three days and that there will be significantly less traffic at the middle school in the afternoons after extracurJ ricular activities start. a In personnel actions, Daniel said the school system hired recent retiree Kurt Greene as a long-term substitute to teach P.E. Daniel said Greene, who has about 40 years teaching experience, . ‘fast tracked’ through the substitute teacher training program. There were no new hires or changes of position. Two bus monitors re— signed and one retired. A ‘ paraprofessional at Hub- bard Elementary resigned and a paraprofessional hired for K.B. Sutton Elementary declined the position. The Monroe County Board of Commissioners does hereby announce that the millage rate will be set at a meeting to be held at the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, 38 West Main Street, Forsyth, Geargia 31029 on August 22, 2019 at 9:00 am. and pursuant . to the requirements of O.C.G.A. § 48-582 does hereby publish the following presentation of the current year's'tax digest and levy, along with the history of the tax digest and levy for the past five'years. CURRENT 2019 PROPERTY TAX DIGEST AND 5 YEAR HISTORY OF, LEVY ; 2 Real & Personal Motor Vehicles Mobile Homes Timber,» 100% “Heavy Duty Equipment , 7 r x c Less Exemptions ’, I NET DIGEST VALUE Gross Maintenance & , Operation Millage Less Rollback j: , . (Local Option Sales Tax) A , NET M80 MILLAGE RATE NetTaxS Increase I Net Tax % Increase I 283.446 r ‘ 3,613,438' 3,512,432 j "r 1,511,515 , 4,978,630 5532257120 1,523,331,102 252,935.21 1 ass-ma TOTAL Mao TAXES LEVIED 1,570,390,301 0, 186 295683 ' 6,683 \ 217,318,397