Thursday, September 20, 2018

Hillsborough approves $3 billion schools budget, and a lower tax rate

TAMPA — With no discussion, the Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday adopted a $3 billion budget and a property tax rate that is lower than last year's, reflecting an increase in property values.

Homeowners will pay $641.40 for every $100,000 in property value, after exemptions. That's down from $690.60 in the current year.

Budget hearings for the Hillsborough schools, despite the large amounts in question, are almost always routine and largely scripted events.

School superintendent Jeff Eakins, who is seeking voter approval of a half-cent sales surtax for capital improvements, noted that, after years of budget-cutting, the district was able to add $5 million to its main reserve account.

RELATED: Two audits seal the deal. Hillsborough will vote on sales taxes for schools, transportation.

Three years ago, when the reserve was losing tens of millions of dollars each year, bond-rating agencies sounded alarms.

"We made a commitment to our bond-rating agencies to reduce our overall staffing, and that has brought us in line," Eakins said.

Public comments included a plea from north Hillsborough parent Elissa Mitchell that district officials get a better handle on the school system's air conditioning needs.

"As I'm sitting here in the board room, it is extremely freezing so I had to step out just to go outside because my nose is running," she said. "And in my kids' schools, they have no air. I have my 7-year-old that suffers from pulmonary issues. We spent the whole Labor Day weekend in the hospital."

Eakins said earlier in the day that his staff is working on a list of items that the district would buy with the expected $131 million a year the 10-year sales tax would generate, if approved.

They also are working out details of a proposed seven-member committee that would oversee how the money is spent. And they are hoping a community organization will step forward to campaign for the referendum.

The schools referendum is one of two local sales tax measures on Hillsborough's Nov. 6. ballot. Transportation advocates are pushing for a 1-cent, 30-year sales tax to support road projects and the bus system.

According to the Supervisor of Elections Office, the first early ballots will be mailed to voters later this month.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol.

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