LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco School Board set the table Tuesday to increase the local property tax for the current fiscal year and ask voters for permission to do so in the next two years.
The board approved a budget advertisement signaling it might raise the tax rate by 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to cover operating costs.
It also sent a resolution to the county supervisor of elections putting a referendum on the November ballot asking voters for the right to consider continuing the tax in 2011-12 and 2012-13. If voters give their blessing, the School Board would hold separate votes each year on whether to enact the higher tax rate.
Only board member Kathryn Starkey voted against the two items. She said she did not support raising taxes during a recession.
"We need to send a message to Tallahassee that it is the state's responsibility to fund education," said Starkey, who is running for a state House seat in District 45.
The others on the board said they felt they have no choice but to increase the tax rate when they vote on it next week.
"We were underfunded by the state," board member Frank Parker said.
The Legislature has taken money out of several funds, not covered the move to the final stage of class size reduction and played games with revenue expectations, he said.
"We just can't operate under that pretense," Parker said. "Our employees have been sharing in the recession in the county. We just need to keep as many of them employed as we can."
During an afternoon workshop, superintendent Heather Fiorentino and her top staff made clear their support for the tax, which they estimate will raise $5.5 million.
Without it, chief finance officer Olga Swinson said, the options are grim, including:
• 2 percent across-the-board pay cuts;
• 98 additional layoffs; or
• $52 per month more in employees' contributions toward their health insurance premiums.
"If you say no to this, we are back to square one," Swinson told the board.
She noted that her budget team had balanced the budget by incorporating the tax, along with several tough cuts such as employee furloughs and charging workers $30 more a month in health benefit payments.
The budget does not take into account an anticipated mid-year cut in state revenue, though, likely as much as $6 million for Pasco schools.
This operations tax would come on top of a state-mandated property tax increase of 17.7 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
In all, the district's tax rate would increase from $7.34 per $1,000 of value a year ago to nearly $7.77 this year. That does not mean the district will have more money, Fiorentino said, as the county's property values have decreased by about 10 percent.
"What they are trying to do is maintain the same amount of funding from last year to this year," she said of the Florida Legislature, which sets school district funding levels including the required local effort.
The board will consider the tax rate on first reading of the budget Tuesday. The hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tamapabay.com/blogs/gradebook.