LARGO — Pinellas budget officials briefed School Board members Tuesday on a new option that could provide the district with as much as $14 million in additional revenue for critical operating needs.
But the option comes with a catch: To get the money, the board must agree to a property tax increase.
The Legislature gave school boards the authority to increase property taxes at the end of the spring session, stipulating that the additional revenue be used either for operating needs or capital outlay needs such as construction and technology.
If the Pinellas School Board agrees to go that route — which, according to district officials, would happen only after lengthy discussion — the money would be used for operating expenses.
“We would have preferred more revenue without having to look at the option of raising property taxes, but that’s not what we got,” said Steve Swartzel, the district’s government services director. “We have a property tax option, and we have to look into it.”
Under the option, the board could raise taxes one quarter mill, or $25 per $100,000 of taxable assessed property value, if five of seven board members agree. The board could vote to do the same thing next year. But if board members want to keep the money for the 2011-12 budget year, they would need to persuade voters to sign off in a referendum that would be placed on the November 2010 ballot.
School Board Chairwoman Peggy O’Shea said it’s too early even to discuss the option.
“It’s premature at this point,” O’Shea said. “We’re still meeting individually with our chief financial officer to look at what this would mean for the district, and when and how the money could be used.”
Among O’Shea’s concerns is whether an additional tax would jeopardize the continuation of a one-half mill property tax originally approved by voters in 2004 that supplements teacher raises and enhances music, art and technology programs.
“It would be asking more from the taxpayers when they’ve already offered us more,” she said. “There’s no guarantee they would say yes.”