The local tax burden to pay for the county’s public schools figures to a bit lighter in the coming year.

 

The local tax burden to pay for the county’s public schools figures to a bit lighter in the coming year.

The Gulf County School Board last Thursday approved advertising a budget that will see the millage rate drop by more than 8 percent, largely due to a reduction in the local property taxes required to receive state funding.

The budget is for advertising purposes; the board will vote on approving the tentative budget Aug. 1, in time to certify a tentative millage to the property appraiser.

The board’s first public hearing on the budget will be in early September.

Any tax relief can be found in the difference between the increase in property values for the School Board, over 14 percent, the increase in revenue by the district, about 12.5 percent.

The proposed millage is 3.34 percent above the rollback, that millage at which the district would collect the identical amount of dollars as collected this year.

School budgets are an entirely different animal compared to the budgets of the two municipalities or the Board of County Commissioners.

The primary components of the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) are established by the Florida Legislature during its annual session each spring.

The largest component is the Required Local Effort, which for Gulf County was reduced from 4.633 mills to 4.108 mills, a drop of nearly 13 percent.

A mill is equal to $1,000 per every $100,000 of appraised taxable personal property.

The other FEFP component set in Tallahassee, that for discretionary spending, is level for all 67 school districts, .748 mills.

The final component, Local Capital Improvement, or millage for bricks-and-mortar dollars, is the only area over which local school boards have any sway.

In Gulf County, the board decided to maintain the same LCI millage, .680, which is nearly half what the district is legally allowed to levy.

The Gulf County School Board, since voters approved an additional one mill operating levy more than eight years ago, have aimed to leave one mill of LCI on the table.

The past two years, with growing infrastructure needs, are the first the district has moved above a half-mill.

The district’s LCI remains one of, if not the, lowest in the state.

That brings the total millage for the fiscal yar to 6.536, down 8.38 percent from the 7.084 millage for 2016-17.

“We held (LCI) millage to the same as previous years and the state actually cut theirs,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “There will be a miniscule ad valorem tax cut for taxpayers.

“We work to hold to or less than the burden on ad valorem taxpayers. You all should be proud of that.”

The big ticket items for the LCI dollars include new gym lights and lunch room ovens at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, basketball goals at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, enclosing the playground area at Wewahitchka Elementary School, and one new bus.

But while the budget came together this year, despite uncertainty out of Tallahassee that resulted in a special session last month, the worry is next year.

Much of the movement on education during the session was troubling for public school systems and particulary for rural school systems.

The special session, and deals worked out among state leaders, assuaged much of the pain, but next year, Norton said, who knows.

“Without legislative help, we know we’re facing a three-quarters of a million dollar shortfall for next year,” Norton said.

Welding at WHS

Norton said indications from the county RESTORE Act coordinator Warren Yeager was that the district was eligible for $250,000-$300,000 in funding to establish a welding program at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School.

The Board of County Commissioners, the final arbiter for spending RESTORE funds, unanimously approved moving forward with establishing the program.

The district would need to fund the instructor, but the RESTORE funding, from BP fine monies stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, would facilitate the creation of welding job infracture, including power and equipment.

“In a perfect world next year at this time we will have a welding shop in Wewahitchka,” Norton said. “But we all know what happens in a perfect world.”

Given the potential for a budget shortfall next year, Norton said he did want to commit to a timeline for the program, which would also be impacted by a timeline for receiving the funding.

The district, however, will move ahead with phasing out the woodworking program at the school with an eye toward creating the welding shop and program as soon as feasible.

“This is a big deal,” Norton said.