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Superintendent Cochran responds to FLPA reimbursement

On Friday, February 12, Senator Dean Burke (R- Bainbridge) announced that the Georgia Forest Land Protection Act (FLPA) will be reimbursing funds back into school districts, including the Decatur County School District.

The Decatur County School District is set to receive $734,962.74.

“I am so proud to see these reimbursements going directly back to our school districts,” Burke said in a press release. “In the Amended Fiscal Year 2021 budget, $25 million has been allocated for the Forest Land Protection Act grant to offset property tax losses in rural communities. It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has left many of our rural communities needing additional support, and I believe these reimbursements do just that.”

Superintendent Tim Cochran said this is not a new act, but an act created years ago when large land owners were able to put their land on an easement to reduce their taxes. This created a parcel of land that was not taxed until the timber was cut. So, in order to keep school districts whole and prevent lost revenue, especially in a district with sparse land like Decatur County, the FLPA was created.

Cochran said this originally gave the school districts back all the money that was lost to taxes, however the FLPA changed this year.

“Two years ago we received over $2 million and this year we received just over $700,000; they changed the laws so we don’t get the reimbursement we used to,” Cochran said.

Cochran still adds the FLPA into the general budget for the year, where 90% of the funds are spent on salary.

Cochran explained that when the new FLPA was enacted it was phased out, so the schools didn’t lose so much funding at one time, although Cochran is unsure how it will impact the funding in the long run.

“It was to create a new class of land that would not fall under the FLPA, and it appears that it will keep us from getting reimbursed, but we don’t know that yet,” he said.

The FLPA is described as an ad valorem tax exemption for properties in which the current primary purpose is used for timber production or maintaining natural habitats, and excludes the entire value of any residence located on the property.

Other local counties such as Colquitt County received $85,561.31, while Seminole County received $163,938.08 from the FLPA.