DCSS board, legislators discuss budget constraints

ALBANY -- Around the same time every year, state legislators gather with members of the Dougherty County School Board as part of an effort to allow local entities to communicate whatever issues they may have.

This year, budget constraints were the primary concern at Monday morning's meeting.

One specific concern addressed by board member the Rev. James Bush related to the issue of unfunded mandates.

"Please, no more unfunded mandates," he said. "We have cut to the bone. If we cut additionally, we are going to cause problems."

Board Member Michael Windom brought up mid-year adjustments as well as the homestead tax exemption. Just dealing with the mid-year adjustments has been an overwhelming task, he said.

"I'm not even thinking about next year's budget," Windom said.

Rep. Ed Rynders of District 152 addressed the concern of the homestead exemption, which was intended to provide homeowner tax relief.

"The agreement reached was that any year state revenues grew by 3 percent, it would be funded," he explained. "We felt that was a reasonable compromise."

Starting in November, homeowners in Dougherty County were asked to pay about $300 more to offset Gov. Sonny Perdue's decision to no longer pay the exemption. In August, the DCSS Finance Committee approved unanimously to roll back the millage rate specifically for homeowners in the future when the state is unable to fund the exemption. In the Nov. 18 school board meeting, the board voted 5-2 against a resolution for tax relief for homeowners.

Generally, there is a 3 percent increase in revenue every seven to 10 years, Rynders said.

When it comes to education budgets in Georgia, one unavoidable topic of discussion is the issue of furloughs in the education system, which were instituted earlier in the year to adjust to budget cuts.

"We consider ourselves to be in a moving target," Rynders said.

As described by Rynders, the three options for cutting the budget were to decrease pay, institute furloughs or terminate employees. The matter was picking the lesser of three evils.

"The furloughs are the least painful (to employees)," he said.

Rynders also explained that given how much of the state budget focuses on education, at least 50 percent, the school systems had to be impacted in some way.

"To get the state troopers (and other entities) to absorb the cost is not reasonable," he said.

Rep. Winfred Dukes of House District 150 made the case that, with the budget as it is, the state cannot continue to go into a revenue reduction mode.

"If we could just be able to hold what we have, we would be OK," Dukes said.

With more than 9 million people residing in Georgia, there is only so much that can be done when there is no growth in revenue, the legislators explained.

"We are operating with more people demanding services with the same revenue," Rynders said.

Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, Albany-D, District 12, said the predicament is explained by the fact that Georgia is not in a tax increase mode.

"We had instances when tax peaks were given and not warranted," she said. "It just depends on how you interpret it and define it."

In the opportunity to communicate with the school board face-to-face, Rep. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, District 151, made a plea to the board members to continue to keep the lines open.

"Please don't give up on us," she said. "If you're there looking at us, that makes a big difference."

Immediately following the meeting, Board Chairman David Maschke commented that the session accomplished its overall goal.

"These annual sessions are very valuable; it allows for the additional sharing of information," he said. "I thought it was a real good exchange."