The Escambia County School District voted 3-2 Tuesday to move forward with effectively raising property taxes, following a recommendation by Superintendent Tim Smith.
The motion to advertise the tax increase was made by District 5 board member Bill Slayton and seconded by Patty Hightower. Slayton, Hightower and Dr. Laura Edler voted in favor, while Kevin Adams and Paul Fetsko voted against.
The board approved a total millage rate of 5.274 which will generate $139.35 million. It’s a rate lower than the current year rate of 5.657 mills, but due to rising home values, it will generally cost many taxpayers more.
A lower rolled-back rate is the tax rate that would generate the same amount of property tax revenue as approved for the prior year. The rolled-back rate was calculated at 4.914 mills, which would generate $129.84 million. A millage rate higher than the rolled-back rate is defined by the State of Florida as a tax increase and must be advertised as such.
Board chairman Kevin Adams said raising taxes now was not the right move as people are facing a 9.1% inflation rate.
“They are having to tighten their budget,” Adams said. “I think it’s a little bit too easy to raise people’s property bills. With the 9.1 inflation, we are getting more half-cent sales tax money, the other side of the picture. Our tax roll has grown by 18%; it’s historic…there’s more tax money coming in (from sales tax).”
“The general public is adamantly opposed to anything that has the title of tax increase,” Fetsko said.
“We have plenty of ability to look out our budget and see what on that wish list we can’t do,” Adams said. “We’ve got an increased tax base; we’ve got an increased half-cent sales tax. We’re not getting less coming in; we’ve got growth coming.”
“We are trying to hire teachers; we are trying to maintain the academic standards we are used to,” Slayton said. “I’m not sure that cutting $7 million (by lowering the millage rate) that we are going to be able to do that. So I want to make sure as you vote you understand that you could cause a huge embarrassment for the Escambia County Schools.”
“We are not buying luxury items. This is the recommendation in order to keep us where we are. We’re not buying anything new that we have not bought before.
two more meetings before the tax increase becomes final
The school board will hold a lenitive budget hearing on Thursday, July 28 at 5 p.m. The board will hear public comment and can change the millage rate if so desired.