BRADENTON -- A divided Manatee school board on Monday approved a hike in the district’s property tax rates.
The board approved an operating discretionary millage worth 0.748 by a 3-2 vote. Then they approved the resolution of the total millage, which increased from 7.591 to 7.960, again by a 3-2 vote. Finally, the 2011-12 tentative budget worth $579.73 million was Ok’d by a 3-2 vote.
Board members Bob Gause, Barbara Harvey and Harry Kinnan voted in favor of each measure. Julie Aranibar and Karen Carpenter voted against.
“I think we really have issues with trust and confidence and credibility, especially in the community,” Carpenter said. “There are people who have lost jobs, lost houses. We really need to be more mindful of the needs of our taxpayers.”
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The three votes caused dissension among board members.
“If you have three votes then, so be it,” Aranibar said before the final votes. “Sometimes I wonder if what we’re going to do is really going to matter.”
Her response solicited a fiery retort from board vice chairman Kinnan.
“That’s unfair, Ms. Aranibar, because it impugns the people who vote against you,” Kinnan said. “We all want the same thing.”
Monday night’s votes could cause taxpayers to pay at least $53.14 more in property taxes on a home valued at $169,000.
However, a property owner might pay less in taxes this year, depending on how much value their property lost in the past year.
Monday’s public hearing started at 5:45 p.m. The final vote wasn’t complete until almost 10 p.m.
“There’s been a lot of discussion,” board chairman Gause said, “and it’s gotten heated.”
Gause asked board members to approve School Superintendent Tim McGonegal’s recommendation to increase the total millage so that board members could comply with meeting state law.
“Any millage not approved tonight, is gone forever,” Gause said in explaining that the board had to set the bar in increasing the millage by Monday night. “You can’t say I don’t want to levy the millage that the budget cuts meet.”
About a month ago, board members approved $14 million in budget cuts. Gause said he advised the board to give McGonegal good direction in setting the budget cuts so that they could be on one accord in setting millage rates.
The final budget is scheduled for board vote on Sept. 8.
Harvey asked the board to consider getting on one accord.
“It would be to our advantage if we decide we are going to work together,” she said. “I don’t want my taxes raised. But I want what’s best for the schools.”
About 30 residents came to the hearing. Many asked board members to turn down the tax increase. At least eight residents spoke.
“It’s not easy what you do and I appreciate what you are doing,” resident Heather Golden said. “I do not support any of the tax increases.”
Resident Douglas Stapleton showed off his tax bill.
“I ditto every person who’s been here tonight,” said Stapleton, a member of the Tea Party of Manatee. “Here’s my tax bill. This is plain disgusting.”
Stapleton’s bill came to $2,383.40. About $1,075 was for Manatee County schools.