VALDOSTA -- The first of three public hearings regarding the Valdosta Board of Education millage rate is set for 8:30 a.m. Monday in the Central Office board room.

Monday night, Valdosta City School System Finance Director Jack Kent recommended board members hold the tax rate at 12.29 mills, the same used in 2002.

"As much as I would like to give everyone a break this year, we can't do it," Kent said. "We can't afford it. We just don't have the money."

The hearings are necessary because the 2002 rate differs from that necessary in 2003 to generate the same amount of revenue. This is due to a growth in the school system's tax digest. City and county tax officials said a 2003 millage rate of 11.871 would bring in the $11.6 million in revenue generated in 2002 at the 12.29-mill rate.

Kent said the board must inform tax authorities of its intent to either roll the millage rate back from 12.29 mills to 11.871 mills -- a difference of $419,904.43 assuming 100 percent collection -- or advertise and host public hearings three times this month its intention to levy 12.29 mills and not roll the taxes back to 11.871. The other two hearings are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday and 6 p.m. Sept. 22, both in the Central Office board room.

"I highly recommend we stay at 12.29 mills," Kent said. "This is all reassessment money and unless a taxpayer had their property reassessed this year, their tax will be the same as 2002 if we stay at the 2002 rate of 12.29 mills. With our budget using 100 percent of our June 30 fund balance and nearly $600,000 of the building fund balance -- funds from the $1 million sale of the old Sallas-Mahone School -- we need to advertise that we will stay with the 12.29 millage rate."

In the last five months, Kent said the state has taken $2 million from the school system and plans to take another 2.5 percent, or approximately $669,000, in the next eight months. Next year, the cuts are anticipated to climb to 5 percent.

"I think it's important to note that three years ago, we were at 12.57 mills," he added. "However, had I known then how bad the financial situation was going to get I would not have recommended those decreases and built up our reserves. But we did what we thought was right at the time. That's what we are trying to do now."

The additional funds generated by holding the millage rate steady are necessary to keep the school system operating at the level parents, students, and teachers expect.

"If we roll this millage back, in two years we will lost financial control of this school system and there will be no way to pull it out without letting people go and cutting instructional money," Kent said.

The board will make its final decision at a special called meeting at 9 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 26, at the Comfort Inn, 2101 W. Hill Ave.

The Central Office is located at 1204 Williams St.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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