By Rebecca Gaunt
The Cobb County School Board reduced the millage rate for the first time since 2007, but Vice Chair David Banks, who argued for a larger reduction, was visibly frustrated at the lack of support.
Chairman Brad Wheeler intervened when the discussion became heated between Post 5 Republican Banks and Post 1 Republican board member Randy Scamihorn. Later in the work session, when Wheeler tried to move the discussion along, Banks told him not to interrupt him. Wheeler told him he was out of order and repeating himself.
The long-standing millage rate for school property tax in Cobb County has been 18.9 mills, but on Thursday the board approved a reduced rate of 18.7 mills for fiscal year 2024.
Banks made a motion to amend the new rate to 18.4%, a decrease of 0.5%. He had the support of Post 3 Democrat Leroy Tre’ Hutchins, but was defeated.
Banks voted present and the remaining board members voted 6-0 to approve the 0.2% reduction.
Banks has asked for reductions of the millage rate in previous years. In 2022, he and Democrat Jaha Howard, the then-representative of Post 2, both unsuccessfully pushed for a reduction.
CCSD approves the millage rate separately from the budget, which goes into effect in July, when the Cobb County tax digest is formalized. The board approved the budget, which incorporated the proposed 0.2% reduction in May. To reduce the millage further would require making cuts to the budget that just went into effect.
Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said it could negatively affect employees as paychecks under the new budget are about to go out.
“Should the millage rate not be approved at 0.2% and it would be increased, we would have to go back into the budget because the sustainability of the raises that are included in the budget would come into question as to whether or not we could sustain them for the next fiscal year, not just this year, but into the future,” Ragsdale said.
Banks responded to Ragsdale that he rejected his assumption.
“I cannot, in good conscience, support the largest tax increase in Cobb County history. Even with a 5% [sic] millage reduction, it’s still the largest tax increase,” Banks told the board at the work session.
At the evening session, Brad Johnson, chief financial officer, said the largest increase in Cobb history was 31% in 1972.
It was stressed several times during the meetings that the school board sets the millage rate, but has nothing to do with the changing values of properties, which is handled by Cobb County Tax Assessor.
Ragsdale said his goal will always be to grow the fund balance as much as possible. He said he never thought he would support a rollback, prior to proposing the 0.2% cut.
“I have pledged to the employees that should we hit hard times again, should we hit a recession again, my pledge has been not to balance the budget on the backs of the employees,” Ragsdale said.
“The day will come when we have to go into fund balance a significant amount to keep from either laying off people, doing furlough days, or doing God forbid, pay cuts again,” he continued.
Another point stressed by both Ragsdale and Johnson, is that the state funds Cobb at the state salary rate.
“We pay far more than what the state pays for teachers, so we use this excess digest or growth to fund those salaries,” Johnson said.
Ragsdale also pointed to programs started with federal COVID-relief funds that the district is continuing even though it’s no longer receiving those additional funds, such as those to address pandemic learning loss.
Post 6 board member Democrat Nichelle Davis called the 0.2% reduction a step in the right direction.
Post 2 board member Democrat Becky Sayler said she was thrilled to see bipartisan support for the 0.2% reduction.
Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.