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  1. The Education Gradebook

Hernando School Board passes budget without cuts

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board has approved a 2016-17 budget with a general fund of $173 million — slightly higher than last year — despite a slightly lower local property tax rate.

More important to board members and staffers, Tuesday's final budget hearing concluded the first budget season since 2008 without discussions about slashing employee positions, imposing furloughs or cutting programs.

"This year was the first one when we didn't have to ask schools or departments for major cuts," budget director Kendra Sittig said after the hearing.

That happened partly because last year's revenue was bolstered by windfalls such as $1.2 million in profit sharing from its health insurer and lower-than-expected fuel costs for buses.

That allowed the district to finish the fiscal year on June 30 with 4.6 percent in reserve funds, which is higher than the 3 percent anticipated a year ago and more than twice as high as the 2.2 percent projected in February after state auditors disqualified some of the money the district had labeled as reserves.

Some of this money was carried forward to avoid cuts in the new budget while maintaining projected reserves of 3.3 percent.

That amount is only slightly higher than the state-recommended minimum of 3 percent, and board Chairman Matt Foreman voted against a budget with that level of reserves last year because he considered it dangerously low.

But he voted with other board members to approve the 2016-17 budget Tuesday, he said, because of the improving financial picture, including revenue from the half-cent sales tax approved by voters last year.

"I'm a lot more comfortable about our ability to maintain the 3 percent (in reserves) this year," Foreman said.

The overall millage rate, which is mostly set by the state Legislature, dropped from 7.196 mills last fiscal year to 6.869 mills this year.

A mill is equal to one dollar in tax for every $1,000 of real, non-exempt assessed property value.

The decrease means the district will raise about $2 million less in local property taxes while the state's contribution is expected to climb about $3 million.

Contact Dan DeWitt at ddewitt@tampabay.com; follow @ddewitttimes.

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