Pinellas County property owners will see a lower school district tax rate this fall, although they might have to pay more than a year ago because of rising taxable values.
The school board on Tuesday approved a $1.77 billion budget that includes a tax rate of $5.938 per $1,000 of taxable value. That’s down 2.5 cents per $1,000, and less than any other time in the past 50 years.
It includes 50 cents per $1,000 from a voter-approved referendum, which helps pay for employee salaries, school arts programs and other expenses. The vote was not unanimous. Board members Stephanie Meyer and Dawn Peters opposed the tax rates, and Meyer voted against the budget.
Meyer pointed to the fact that the tax rate, though decreased, actually amounts to a tax increase.
A 12% rise in taxable value is expected to generate about $83.6 million more in revenue for the district. The owner of a $270,000 home not covered by the state’s 3% Save Our Homes cap would pay about $189 more in school taxes than a year ago, according to district calculations.
“Many families in Pinellas are struggling to make ends meet,” Meyer said, citing the local inflationary rate of 5% to 7.5% on average. “Everyone is forced to do more with less and to make difficult choices. … So should our local government.”
Lacking additional spending cuts, she said, she could not support the budget proposal.
Peters did not speak before voting.
The $1.77 billion overall budget includes $1.055 billion for general operations, such as salaries and benefits, supplies and materials, student transportation, and library and textbooks.
It also includes $343 million for capital projects. Larger projects appearing in the spending plan are construction of a YMCA partnership school in St. Petersburg, renovations of Sandy Lane Elementary and Gibbs High, and establishment of a district leadership center.
“This millage rate and budget are directly tied to the district strategic plan,” which the school board approved earlier in the evening, Superintendent Kevin Hendrick said.
That was enough to prompt teacher Andrea Dort and speaker Sarah Peacock to urge the board to adopt the maximum tax rate possible in order to bolster employee pay. Former board candidate Bronson Oudshoff, by contrast, reminded the board that it collected about $72 million in new revenue last year, too, and that the cumulative effect must be considered.
Oudshoff suggested the board might establish a finance advisory board to help determine areas where cuts might be viable.
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