Manatee County voters will likely have the chance to vote on a property tax increase to provide more money to the School District of Manatee County early next year.
On Tuesday afternoon during a workshop, board members asked board attorney Jim Dye to draft a resolution to hold a special election in March 2018 to raise the school millage rate by one mill.
“I feel the duty to not just ask, but to fight for the education that can be available if we have these funds,” board member Dave Miner said.
One mill equates to $1 per every $1,000 of home value. The current school millage rate in the county is 6.92, and the first $25,000 of a home is exempt. District chief financial officer Rebecca Roberts said the average home value in Manatee County was roughly $230,700. The first $25,000 of a home value is exempt from school taxes, so a one mill increase would result in a property tax increase of roughly $200 a year for the average homeowner.
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Roberts said a one mill increase would generate roughly $30 million more in tax revenue for the district, and a half mill increase would lead to roughly $15 million more in tax revenue.
Dye will craft a resolution for the board to review at a school board meeting in the coming months. If the board passes the resolution, county residents will have a chance to vote on the tax increase during a special election.
A protracted battle between the teacher’s union and the district this year that ultimately resulted in paltry pay increases for teachers highlighted the district’s need for additional revenue.
Board members have tackled a number of tactics for generating additional tax revenue for the district in recent months. Voters approved an extension to the half-cent sales tax in November, in January the district bonded $150 million for the construction of new schools, and in May the board approved a new impact fee collection rate, establishing rates home developers must pay to offset the cost of bringing more students into the district with the construction of new homes.
John Colon said holding a costly special election asking for a tax increase would not be a good look for the district.
“People are going to feel that all we do is ask for money,” Colon said.
Kennedy, Messenger and Miner said they wanted to find additional revenue for salaries. Impact fees can only be used toward capital projects that expand the district’s capacity and cannot be used toward teacher pay. Colon said he would be in favor of a half-mill increase, but he wanted to see a hiring freeze and he would not support holding a special election.
The special election will cost roughly $250,000, but if the item were included on a general election ballot it would be free. Kennedy, Messenger and Miner said it was important to get the money sooner rather than later. The next county-wide general election is not until November 2018, and if a March 2018 referendum passed, the district could use funds during the 2018-19 school year.
Colon’s reservations were overridden by the other board members.
“We have to find a way to fund this underfunded district,” Kennedy said.
Messenger said it was important for the district to develop a campaign first to educate the public and ensure the costly referendum was successful.
“I think it has the potential for making people angrier if we spent that money and it was not successful,” Messenger said. “I’m very concerned about that.”
The board must pass a resolution 120 days before the special election is held.