Sunday, October 21, 2018

Pasco School Board to consider asking lawmakers to leave property tax rates alone

For the past three years, Florida lawmakers have forced local school districts to decrease their local property tax rates so the revenue does not exceed collections from the previous budget cycle.

Their rationale has been that any increase would represent a tax hike, even if the tax rate remained unchanged.

Pasco County School Board vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley calls that logic a bunch of spin. And she wants her colleagues to demand change from the Legislature.

"I am so tired of sitting here and having the same conversation," Crumbley said at a recent board session. "Our hands are tied."

At her request, the district staff has drafted a resolution for the board to consider at its Oct. 16 meeting. It urges the Legislature and governor to maintain the "required local effort" tax rates, and not impose the rollback rate to keep income static as property values rise.

Such a move would provide "critically needed increased revenue to operate public schools without raising taxes," the document states.

The issue has proven a bone of contention in the past. First, some lawmakers argued they did not want to have the majority burden of funding public education on local taxes.

Related coverage: Gov. Rick Scott and Legislature on collision course over school funding

Later, they suggested that the growth of property values should support the services.

During the 2018 legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott and the state Senate called for the same action, noting it could provide about a half-billion dollars into school district coffers, allowing for pay raises, program enhancements and rising costs of operations.

House leaders, however, insisted that the tax rates shrink and that schools set priorities to live within their existing revenue streams.

Related coverage: Florida House, Senate education budgets differ by $538m, with split over taxes 

"When a taxpayer is forced to pay more money this year than last year – through no action of their own – it's a tax increase," then Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Pasco County Republican, said to open the session.

Pasco district officials have pointed out that the decision to cut the tax rate over three years by 83 cents per $1,000 of taxable value meant the district received about $21.8 million less than it would have if nothing had changed.

Districts throughout Florida felt proportional impacts.

That money, they contend, could be used to benefit Florida children, whose numbers have increased even as the amount of local money to educate them has held steady.

Districts do get added per-student funding from the state as enrollment rises. But budget writers have noted the need to make some difficult spending decision because of limited funds and a list of mandates they must meet.

Pasco School Board members, who have debated ways to pay employees more, have said they want to take advantage of the county's rapid growth to improve their bottom line.

"It's not a tax increase," Crumbley said.

Read the resolution for more information.

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