WHITFIELD COUNTY, GA (WRCB) -- If you own property in Whitfield County, expect to pay higher taxes. The Whitfield County Board of Education approved a property tax hike Friday all in an effort to keep the struggling school system afloat.
Homeowners and some county leaders tried to sway the Whitfield County Board of Education against a rate hike during three recent public hearings, but the board voted this morning for a 27% millage rate increase.
"It's too high now, period," homeowner Larry Tallent said.
News of the property tax increase is a tough blow to many Whitfield County residents already struggling to make ends meet.
"Disappointed the American dream is slipping away," Whitfield homeowner Anthony McGhee said. "It's going to hurt us the most. It's like the Word says, the rich man will crush the poor man to death," resident Deborah Macwhinnie said.
The board voted to raise property taxes by 4 mills. That, for example, adds an extra $160 annually on a $100,000 house.
"Even though there is a need for this, I'm sure, I just think it could not come at a worse time," Whitfield County Tax Commissioner Danny Sane said.
Sane says foreclosures are already up from last year and worries some won't be able to swing it.
"We're getting pushed closer and closer to the edge," McGhee said.
"I've spoken to a lot of people who are deciding to buy groceries for the month or pay taxes," Sane said.
Sane rallied for more gradual rate increases. School officials said they can't afford to do that, but did go with a lesser increase than originally proposed.
"The board listened. They didn't do the full five, they did the four mill increase," Whitfield Schools spokesperson Eric Beavers said.
School officials say the new rate will generate around $28 million, which they say is necessary to keep from going bankrupt like dozens of other Georgia school districts.
"We've been making cuts since the economy took a downward turn back in 2009," Beavers said.
Some homeowners without kids in school argue the burden shouldn't fall on them.
"To me, the older people get the short end of the stick," homeowner Libby Tallent said. Others say it's a small price to pay for what's at stake.
"I want other children to have a good education. I think that's our future," homeowner Wilma Gibson said.
Whitfield County school officials say the financial problems can be attributed to soaring health insurance costs, state mandated salary increases, and lost funding for needed programs.
The first increased property tax bill is due December 20th. The Tax Commissioner says he's willing to work with people to create payment plans to make it.
Tuesday, May 21 2013 1:04 PM EDT2013-05-21 17:04:55 GMT
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