BROOKSVILLE -- It came as no surprise, but the Hernando School Board turned its nose up at its last opportunity to levy an additional 25 cents for every $1,000 of property value to help bolster the district’s operating fund.
Board member James Yant moved to approve the so-called critical needs millage, but the motion died for lack of a second and with no discussion. It would have taken a super majority, or 4 of 5 board members, to make it happen.
Instead, the board set a tentative rate of 7.147 mills, or $714.70 dollars for a $125,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption. That’s $6.20 less than last year for the same example home.
Had the board levied the critical needs millage, the bill for the home would be $766.70, or $18.80 more than last year.
Those examples, though, assume property values had stayed the same. Of course, values tanked again this year, dropping about 11 percent, so tax bills for most residents will come in even lower.
The state sets most of a district’s tax rate. Last year, the Legislature gave school boards the power to levy extra quarter mill for the 2009 and 2010 budget years. Hernando was not among the 44 of 67 districts that took the option last year.
The voters must approve the levy for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 budget years, and boards must decide this summer to place the issue on this November’s ballot.
Hernando board members in recent months had opposed levying the additional millage even when the district’s budget looked to be nearly $6 million in the red. In recent weeks, though, that picture has brightened, in large part because the district was able to carry forward some $6 million that went unspent this current budget year, mainly on staffing and diesel fuel. Now the total general fund is projected to be $171 million, with $6.3 million in reserves.
That took the pressure off the board to raise the tax rate.
Board members have said they are fine with putting the critical needs millage to voters in November.
There has been some concern, however, that the statute is worded in a way that could leave a voter-approved increase open to a legal challenge if the school boards do not approve the levy this year. State officials have said it’s not necessary for school boards to do so in order to put the issue to voters, but Hernando School Board attorney Paul Carland and Superintendent Bryan Blavatt told the board they are still worried about the legal vulnerability.
The second and final budget hearing is set for 6 p.m. on Sept. 7.