The Gulf County School Board is poised tonight to approve a final 2017-18 budget thatwill include a modestly lower taxes for most taxpayers.
During a final public hearing on the budget scheduled for 5 p.m. ET at the district office’s, the board will put final approval to a millage rate that falls 8.38 percent and a budget that includes a 12.5 percent increase in revenues.
The millage rate will fall from 7.084 to 6.536, including the voter-approved one mill additional operating levy in place the past nine years.
A mill is equal to $1,000 per every $100,000 of appraised taxable personal property.
The margin of any tax decrease for property owners can be found within the margin between the 14 percent by which property values increased for district calculations and the 12.5 percent revenues will increase.
The tentative 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.
“There will be a miniscule ad valorem tax cut for taxpayers,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “We work to hold to or lessen the burden on ad valorem taxpayers.”
In significant measure, the reduction in the millage comes courtesy of state lawmakers, who each spring during the legislative session set the major components of the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) to fund public schools.
A school district’s annual budget is unlike any other taxing authority in that nearly the entire budget framework is crafted by the Florida Legislature.
The largest component, Required Local Effort, was reduced this year from 4.633 mills to 4.108 mills, a drop of nearly 13 percent.
The district must levy the RLE to receive state funding.
Lawmakers also set the discretionary spending component, equal for all districts, at .748 mills.
The school board has sway only over the Local Capital Improvement (LCI), or millage for bricks-and-mortar dollars.
The board chose to maintain the same LCI millage, .680, which is less than half what the district is legally allowed to levy, which is 1.5 mills.
Since voters approved an additional one mill operating levy the board has pledged to leave one mill of LCI on the table.
The past two years, with growing infrastructure needs, are the first the district has moved ever so slightly above the half mill.
The district’s LCI remains one of the lowest, it not the lowest, in the state.
“We held (LCI) millage to the same as previous years and the state actually cut theirs (RLE),” Norton said of the overall millage reduction.
The major 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.
Construction on the covered playground area is underway and should be completed before the winter break.
While the budget, after some initial concerns over legislation coming out of Tallahassee, fell together this year, Norton expressed concern about next year.
Much of the movement on education during the legislative session was troubling for public school systems and particulary for rural school systems.
A later special session caused local districts to not even know budget numbers until weeks after the fiscal year began.
And though deals worked out among state leaders assuaged much of the potential pain which might have been inflicted in this year’s budget, next year, Norton said, is an unknown.
“Without legislative help, we know we’re facing a three-quarters of a million dollar shortfall for next year,” Norton said.
Another troubling development for the district, which could impact spending, is the enrollment projection for the school year, which is a base number for crafting the FEFP in Tallahassee.
During the summer, the district was struggling nearly 60 students behind, though that distance was closing as the school year opened up.
The first official student count comes next month.