The headline is the Gulf County School Board will likely lower taxes this year.
The inside pages tell a slightly more complicated tale.
The overall millage for public schools will fall from 7.0630 to 7.0500 this year but that good news for taxpayers underscores a concerning trend for the district.
Student enrollment continues to drop, particularly in the north end of the county where the district is projecting a drop of 50-60 students.
That continued decline in enrollment – the district has lost more than 400 students in a decade – is reflected in the reduction in the so-called Required Local Effort millage which the district must assess to receive state funding.
That millage will drop 3.45 percent to 4.702, early projections indicate.
Discretionary funding from the state that will remain at .748 mills – the Florida Legislature each spring sets two of the three components of school funding under the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP).
Legislators also cap the one component over which a district has any flexibility, bricks and mortar local capital improvement millage.
“They set much of the funding and they cap what we can use for capital outlay,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton.
Long one of the lowest in the state at under half a mill, the School Board is proposing an increase to .600 mills to address pressing infrastructure needs.
That millage is still less than half what the district could levy for capital outlay needs.
Combined with the one additional operating mill approved by voters the district will assess a projected millage of 7.0500 for the coming year, down from 7.06300, a drop of just under two-tenths of a percent.
“We are going to be able to actually assess less millage than we did for the past year,” said Norton.
The numbers are projections based on the preliminary tax roll submitted July 1 to the Florida Department of Revenue by Property Appraiser Mitch Burke.
The value of the mill – a mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 is assessed taxable value – increased for the school district 3.2 percent, representing $43,028
The increase in the local capital improvement dollars, a 34 percent increase that will bring in an additional $234,547 from last year, helps boost the district’s overall bottom line by $285,839.
But, that, along with the increase in dollars from the voter-approved mill and slight increase in discretionary revenue belies the fact that the district still had to shave another $355,000 in expenses on the operations side as the overall budget continues a decline which as seen a loss of nearly $4 million in revenue over the past five years.
The increase in capital outlay dollars reflects the need to bolster aging infrastructure in a district in which the newest building is now four decades old.
In particular this year, the district must purchase two 77-passenger buses, which will eat up that increase in capital outlay dollars and more.
The district has an old fleet, with the average age of each bus 12-13 years, said Greg Layfield, district supervisor for transportation.
And over recent years the School Board has made the decision annually to make do with what is available and deviating from what had been a rotating schedule for purchasing new buses.
“We have a very old fleet,” Layfield said, adding that two buses were totaled in an accident near the end of the school year.
The other major ticket item – other than county-wide expenses for bathrooms, doors, flooring and other equipment – is $115,000 for new lighting at the Port St. Joe High School football stadium.