By Maggie Lee
By a 5 to 4 vote, the DeKalb County Board of Education has decided to put off a vote on the next school year’s budget after a board member said the budget draft would create an ongoing deficit.
“I have very in-depth questions about overspending $40 million dollars next year and where we go after that,” said central DeKalb board member H. Paul Womack, as he asked to put off the vote and have a discussion of the budget among the whole board.
The proposed budget for the year beginning in July would raise spending by some $40 million, made possible by an unforeseen surplus this year. That surplus comes in large part from a rosier economic picture. Property tax revenue did not fall as much as last year’s budget-writers predicted and the state did not cut education funding any further. Among other things, the extra spending would fully fund Pre-K and eliminate furloughs.
But Womack said revenue still simply does not meet expenditures. “If we take another two weeks to look at this, to understand what comes after the year 11-12 and look at 12-13, you’ll find your budget is going forward with an ongoing $40 million deficit,” he said at the May 9 board meeting.
“If you spend $40 million more than you got, that’s an ongoing expense. It’s built in,” he said.
Eugene Walker, fellow board member and chair of the budget committee, disagreed. Chief Financial Officer Marcus Turk “did present those items to us,” Walker said. “They were discussed and approved and recommended. What kind of answer could someone be looking for that’s not already available, that Mr. Turk cannot provide tonight?”
“If the economy varies from predictions, or if the state government makes more budget changes, “we’d have to come back and revisit the budget anyway.”
“I’m puzzled as to why we have to have a committee of the whole to look at this budget when it’s one of the best budgets we’ve ever put together,” Walker said.
But Womack predicted “next year, what I think will happen is we will be screaming for a 2-mill tax increase.”
That would raise property taxes for education from $22.98 per $1,000 of property value to $24.98. He added that he will not support an increase.
The draft budget calls for no millage increase.
The board received the $1.2 billion budget draft in mid-April. To meet a county deadline, the BOE must approve a budget by July 1. The last regularly scheduled full board meeting before that is June 13.