For over an hour Monday night, the Banks County Board of Education was repeatedly questioned by citizens upset about the cost of their school taxes.
Banks County home owners received tax notices this week with many seeing increases in the assessed value of their property. This has led to concern and anger about property taxes, especially from senior citizens who believe they should be given a school tax exemption since they no longer have children in school.
“As I senior, I am retired, I have paid into school taxes all my working life,” Roger Whiten said. “I think seniors need to get a bigger break.”
He also said he doesn’t believe his property is worth what it is assessed at by the county.
“I feel like there needs to be a way to look at the appraisal of your property,” he said. “Not what has happened in this 10 percent inflation economy.”
Superintendent Ann Hopkins and BOE members said that a school tax exemption would take legislative action and is not an action the school board can take.
BOE member Atha Dalton said that the board of commissioners can ask the state representative to take this issue to the legislation for Banks County, where it would be vote on by all representatives.
There was also much discussion about the school tax millage rate, which is currently 14.5 mills. Several people in the audience asked why it can’t be lowered.
Superintendent Hopkins reported that the state requires the millage rate be a minimum of 14 mills in order for the school system to get state funds, which total $1.5 million to $2 million each year. A chart was also presented showing that Banks County has the lowest school tax millage rate in the area.
“We are almost as low as we can go,” Hopkins said. “If we rollback below 14, we will have to further tax to make up the loss of that $1.5 million in state funds we won’t get.”
BOE vice chairman Wes Whitfield said, “We try to do what is best for the kids and the taxpayers. I look at every decision to see what is best for those. What can we do to spend the least amount of money to get the most education. I do it every meeting. We understand you about the taxes because we all pay taxes too. We try every time to do what is best for the students, staff and taxpayers."
Martha Ramsey also spoke on the tax increase, “I realize there has been a reassessment of property taxes but so did y’all and, when that happens, it is upon this board to adjust the millage rate accordingly… How about let’s adjust our millage rate for the taxpayers, cut back on some of these pointless positions and begin investing in the Research Based Core Quality Curriculum Resources that would prepare our teachers for the highest quality production of student outcomes?”
Mrs. Ramsey also spoke on an issue she brought to the BOE at an earlier meeting about a book she believes to be inappropriate for primary school students. She said that the book has since been removed from the primary school but is still “available at the elementary school and higher.”
She remarked, “My question is why? This book is inappropriate for any child…. This board should not feel comfortable with that book being in any of our schools with what I read out loud at last month’s meeting. I care deeply about BCSS. Filth is filth and should never be allowed in a school setting. I will continue to pursue this issue and hope we can create an oversight committee to review all books within BCSS.”
Also at the Monday night BOE meeting, Michelle Ramsey spoke on her concerns about “governance councils and parent involvement.”
“We would like this board to incorporate live stream for all public meetings to ensure transparency and upload to the school Facebook or website platforms,” she said. “I March, I attended a Governance Council meeting for the primary and elementary schools. Both sets of meetings have since been posted and, from what I witnessed at these Governance Council meetings; these minutes have been fabricated. We are asking this board to require all Governance Council meetings be live-streamed for transparency and honesty.”
Mrs. Ramsey then outlined several examples of items in the minutes that she said did not reflect what actually happened at the meetings.