The Santa Rosa County School Board gave the first round of approvals Thursday for a proposed $407 million 2020-2021 budget.
The tentative budget includes tweaks to the millage rate, the amount of property tax a homeowner pays per $1,000 of assessed value. The board decreased the overall millage rate from 6.09 mill to 6.05 mills, meaning homeowners whose property value hasn't changed should see a lower bill this year.
However, the board increased a portion of the millage allocated to capital outlay projects from 1.4 mills to 1.5 mills, a move estimated to bring the district an additional $1.2 million for building construction, renovation and maintenance.
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The change passed 3-2, with District 1 and 2 board members Linda Sanborn and Buddy Hinote casting the dissenting votes. Both said they were voting "no" to uphold prior commitments made to their constituents.
"Many people contacted me in regards to this, and if I'm going to be a man of my word, I'm gonna have to say no to this increase," Hinote said. "The reason being that I told them that if impact fees were to come to fruition, then I would not consider this increase."
Sanborn said she was voting no because of a pledge a prior school board made to voters 22 years ago.
"We promised the public, the taxpayers, that if they voted in the half -cent sales tax, we would not raise that millage," Sanborn said. "Even though I know there have been many years since that promise was made, I feel like a promise is a promise. Period. Our half-cent sales tax is bringing in over $9 million a year. I don't want to chance losing that at the next election because we raised this millage in order to earn $1 million."
Wei Ueberschaer, District 5 school board member, said that she had faith that the public would understand circumstances had changed over the past to decades, and they would support the district in taking the steps needed to provide the high-quality education to students.
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"Back 22 years ago, when that promise was made, the school district received Public Education Capital Outlay funds, which we no longer receive," Ueberschaer said. "Also, of the 67 districts in Florida, 55 of them, or 82%, assess the full 1.5 mills (allowed by statute). We're just at a different time fiscally than we were 22 years ago, and the increase from 1.4 to 1.5 in the entire scheme of the total millage is very, very small."
Ueberschaer said based on her calculations, a homeowner with a house valued at $200,000 would pay $1065.93 under the current 6.09 millage rate. She said even with the increase in capital outlay mills, the would pay $7.18 less under the new 6.05 millage rate.
District 3 and 4 board members Carol Boston and Jennifer Granse voted with Ueberschaer to approve the new capital outlay millage.
The meeting Thursday was the first public hearing on the proposed budget and millage rate. The final public hearing has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 10.
Kevin Robinson can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8527.
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