Thanks to a combination of decisions made in Tallahassee and Port St. Joe, property owners will see some relief this year when it comes to school taxes.
The Gulf County School Board last week approved tentative budget and millage rate for the fiscal year which began June 1.
The millage rate will fall more than 3 percent and the school funding under the state’s Florida Education Finance Program will drop by more than $1.6 million.
“We are going to be able to cut the millage rate,” said the district’s finance officer Sissy Worley. “It was a team effort and I think we did it while looking out for the kids.”
School budgets are unlike municipal and county budgets in several respects, beginning with fewer exemptions are allowed for property tax payers when it comes to school taxes.
Therefore, while the loss in taxable value at the county level was 6-7 percent, for the school district it was 11.35 percent.
Another factor is that local school revenue, with an additional one-mill levy, is tied to the value of the mill; due to the fall in property values, the value of a mill fell by 11 percent, ore $190,000.
Additionally, local school boards have limited sway over the final millage rate.
Of the three primary components of FEFP funding, only one is controlled at the district offices in Port St. Joe.
State lawmakers filled in the blanks of the FEFP spread sheet during the annual 60-day legislative session.
In Gulf County, the required local effort millage, that which the district must levy to receive state funding, dropped while discretionary spending, that used primarily for operations, is static and equal in all 67 school districts.
Locally, there is also the one mill additional operating levy approved by voters.
The final component, local capital improvement, or LCI, is the sole area where district school boards have impact.
The Gulf County School Board, despite a host of pressing needs, sliced the LCI millage by 13 percent.
Though dollars will be fewer, however, the district will still accomplish two key goals with LCI money.
One, the district will purchase two buses to continue the replacement of an aging fleet that has become younger the past three years.
Secondly, the district will use $500,000 to replace the track at Wewahitchka Jr.Sr. High School.
District officials have sought to replace the deteriorating track, which is used by the elementary school and for community events, for several years.
“It is a well-used facility,” said Principal Jay Bidwell, noting the grass that now grows through the surface’s cracks.
The county is unable to host district track meets due to the condition of the high school tracks.
The hope for Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, Norton said, was FEMA reimbursement after the track was all but destroyed while hosting some 1,200 law enforcement personnel immediately after Hurricane Michael.
In addition to those expenses, the district will also spend LCI money on new cameras at the high schools, lunchroom equipment and continued repairs of “The Dome” at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.
Add the millage components together and the overall millage rate dropped from 6.6460 to 6.439, a difference of .207 mills, or 3.21 percent.
One mill is equal to $1,000 in appraised taxable property value.
On the dollar side, the result is an overall drop in school funding revenue of 15 percent, or $1.6 million.
The drop in revenue is mitigated by the $2 million the district received in the forum of grant funding from Triumph Gulf Coast.
The funding was aimed at offsetting ad valorem tax losses; Worley said the money is being used for basic operations.
The Gulf County School Board will hold public hearings on the budget in September.