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BOE to further discuss what to do about multi-million dollar error

POSTED: September 3, 2014 1:00 p.m.

The Barrow County School Board will discuss with its lawyers what to do about a long-ago error by the Barrow County tax assessor’s office which could have cost the school system more than $20 million in revenue.

At Tuesday night’s board meeting, after the board tentatively approved keeping the system’s millage rate at 18.5, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Chris Griner informed the members of a talk he had with the county’s new chief appraiser, Don Elrod. According to Griner, Elrod discovered an error made by the county tax assessors in 1998, in which they extended the same $10,000 homesteading exemption they were offering to the school system tax digest, despite the school board having never voted to approve such an exemption, as is required by state law.

"We were under-collecting the last 16 years," Griner said.

The tax exemption should have been $2,000, according to Griner, which would have meant a good deal more money coming to the school system each year than it has been receiving.

This year alone, Griner said preliminary reports showed around $1.8 million extra in revenue that would be gained if the much lower exemption were applied to Barrow homeowners who have applied for homeowners status.

After fees, including 2.5 cents of each dollar paid to the tax assessor’s office for handling the tax collections, Griner said it would mean, tentatively, an extra $1.3-1.4 million in tax digest revenue for the school system.

Elrod, who brought the error to Griner’s attention last week after discovering it soon before, will be working to change the exemption for the soon-to-be completed fiscal year in order to give the school system the extra funds for the FY15 budget.

As for past years?

Board members Lynn Stevens did a rough calculation assuming an average of $1.5 million lost due to this error per year (Griner said an actual average would be impossible to calculate due to the many variations over the years, including the millage rate and other factors).

"Over 16 years that’s $24 million," she said. "I just want to know how that happened and what they're going to do to make this right."

She wasn’t done, and made it a point to note the recent areas, such as hook-up fees for Sims Academy, where the county has begun to charge the school system for services it had formerly provided at no cost.

"We paid them 2.5 percent of every dollar we get to get these bills right and collected. And apparently it hasn't been right," she said. "Who audits them, and why wasn't this caught 16 years ago? And where (is) the children of Barrow’s money?"

Fellow board member Connie Wehunt raised similar objections, while board member Dan Cromer, who was superintendent of the school district until 1998, reinforced the point that the school board had indeed not voted to raise the homestead exemption.

Chairman Mark Still noted that it was very unlikely that the board of commissioners would have any way, or any desire, to actually recoup the school systems.

All were in agreement to discuss the matter further and bring in the system attorney to look over the issue and see if there is any action that can be taken.

 

Consent agenda:

The board approved all items placed on the consent agenda save for the laptops for digital coaches, a bid which will be brought back to the board at a later date.

The board also approved the hiring of James Bowen as interim principal in place of the departed Sheila Kahrs, and Albert Smith as a new assistant principal at Bear Creek Middle to take over for John McKay.

 

COMMENTS

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1 comment
Dirtman: September 4, 2014 5:34 p.m.

Ok maybe I'm wrong but I think it works like this: first you set a budget in dollars then you determine the total digest after exemptions next you do the math and determine the millage rate required to provide the dollars needed in the budget. No money was loss just home owners got a break at the expense of other property owners. If I'm wrong then please correct me if I'm correct please send the BOE back to school,



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