Columbia County School Board Approves Tax Increase

Property taxes will be going up in
Columbia County after the Board of Education approved a millage rate increase
Tuesday night. School leaders say the
tax hike will help balance the budget for the 2013-2014 school year, but not
everybody agrees with the tax increase.

“We've
got no choice. Classrooms are bigger. We're not doing as much. We have really
tightened the belt. But unfortunately, our expenses kind of exceed our revenue.
Teachers have to get paid, they won't do it for free. So we have to find
someway to pay them,” says Vice Chairman Mike Sleeper.

Sleeper says the state has been sending less money to the school
system every year and because of that, schools have had to make cuts every
year. But school leaders wanted to find a way to fill the 11.5 million dollar
deficit.

On Tuesday night, they decided on raising property taxes by 1 mill. School
officials say the increase will be about $40 for a $100,000 home.

Sleeper
was the only board member who voted against the tax increase. He says the
school system could have furloughed teachers for two days.

“Times
are tough. Look at Savannah River Site and Fort Gordon. Lots of places in the community
are suffering. People are taking cuts in their jobs. Before we come back to the
taxpayers here and ask for more, I want to make sure that we have done
everything we can,” says Sleeper.

But Board
Member David Dekle says the school system has already made enough cuts.

“You
don't want to shoot yourself in the foot. If people move to Columbia County
because it has a great school system, we have got to maintain a great school
system,” says Dekle.

The tax
increase wasn't the only part of the plan. Contingency positions will be
reduced and 20 custodian positions will be cut. It's something school leaders
didn't want to do, but say they had to.

“Our
mission is to educate students and if we can keep the schools clean with 140
janitors instead of 160 janitors, we need to do that,” says Dekle.

School leaders will finalize the 2013-2014 budget at the next board meeting on June 11th. The tax
increase will start in July.

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