Schools Chief Financial Officer Don Miller said the state Department of Revenue was sent a corrected copy of the county’s property tax digest last week. A physical copy signed by the tax commissioner was sent Wednesday and an electronic copy was sent Thursday.
The Department of Revenue will send information to another department to determine a sales ratio, then the digest will be submitted to the state House and governor’s office, where staff will recalculate the county’s wealth ranking. The county was told in January it would not receive equalization funding from the state, which funded $6.2 million to Troup County schools last year, because its wealth ranking had increased. The school system is facing a total $11.1 million shortfall next fiscal year.
The wealth ranking is based on the county’s property tax digest. Miller said the state’s tax abatement deals with Kia and some of its suppliers had caused confusion in the actual property value, resulting in the dramatic change.
“Kia property is what’s called PILOT property – payment in lieu of taxes,” Miller said, recounting a discussion he had with a Department of Revenue official. “So, when it’s payment in lieu of taxes, it should not be on the digest.”
Miller said state officials had instructed Scott Turk, manager of county governmental services and GIS mapping, differently on how to calculate the properties in the 2009 and 2010 tax years.
“So, a project this size, and how it’s been handled, I don’t think the state really knew how to handle it,” Miller said. “Because in ’09, they put it on the digest in a way that the state told them, in ’10 they put in on the digest another way the state told them.”
Miller said state officials have been helpful since discovering the discrepancy and that as soon as the Department of Revenue finishes its calculations and sends them to the House and governor’s office officials, he hoped to be able to get the information so he can calculate what the school system might expect in a corrected equalization grant. State officials had promised Troup County Schools would get a correct amount if its wealth ranking changed, Miller previously told the board, although the state is still funding less than it has previous years, and a shortfall is still expected.
The state also had earmarked about $500,000 for Troup County schools, Miller said, as part of a one-time fund to help school systems that were hardest hit by the equalization changes. However, a state official told him that the original $7 million total for those reserved funds that were to be disseminated to about half the state’s school systems has been cut down to $5 million.
“I’m more concerned about this equalization,” Miller said. “Once we get that number, that’s an amount that should continue year-to-year. … That $7 million was a one-time fund to get people through (fiscal year 2013) only.”
Superintendent Cole Pugh said that the school board has not yet set a date to vote on its proposed cuts to make up its projected shortfall because staff wants to know if the adjusted equalization funding will affect the budget first. The school system is considering cutting 118 positions and closing West Side Magnet School among its proposals to help balance the budget. Pugh said the board will not vote on the proposals at its regular meeting Thursday.
“I would like to get our equalization number and then have several days to work with that to see what items we might be able to add back to the list from the recommendations to cut,” Pugh said. “And until we pick that up, we don’t want to set a date because we might get to that date and still not be prepared for it.”
Matthew Strother can be reached at email@example.com or 706-884-7311, ext. 229.