EAST MANATEE -- The Manatee County school board may have made collecting additional revenue for much needed schools more difficult when it included sales tax in its discussion on impact fees.
In an effort to assuage the developers who were concerned that the fees were too high, the school board said they would keep the fees down if voters passed a sales tax referendum they hope to schedule for November's elections. Impact fees are designed to pay for growth in new areas, while the sales tax revenues can be used to pay for any school construction needs across the county.
The caveat -- and mixing the two -- troubles at least one county resident.
"That, to me, is difficult to understand," said Ray McCray, a member of the East Manatee Republican Club, questioning Manatee County School District Superintendent Diana Green during a luncheon on Wednesday.
After a vote of approval from county commissioners, school-specific impact fees will be collected again beginning in April at 50 percent the rate suggested by a consultant in the first year, 75 percent in the second year and 100 percent after that.
School impact fees are collected on new homes built in the county and can be spent by the district to help pay for the new capital costs demanded by population growth in those areas. Greene recommended the board reinstate the fees on a three-year schedule. The board added its own caveat, stating that if voters approved extending a half-cent sales tax, the collection rate would slide back down to 50 percent of the maximum allowed rate.
"I don't understand that," McCray said. "It doesn't make sense."
In trying to explain the board's decision, Greene said that the sales tax brings in more money annually for the school district than impact fees. The sales tax also has more flexibility in how it can be spent. Greene's recommendation was accepted by the board, and the board added on the sales tax piece, she said. Greene called it "an interesting resolution."
"They were willing to stay at 50," she said.
Although the district is aiming to have the sales tax question available to voters in the general election this year, the necessary paperwork has not been filed because the board has not formally approved that measure yet, Greene said.
In addition to answering questions on school funding, Greene also took questions from audience members on charter schools. While Greene was speaking to the Republican club, teachers and other advocates across the state were in Tallahassee protesting how much money charter schools receive from the state, arguing too much money is pulled away from traditional schools to go to charters.
In Manatee County, money doled out to the 12 charter schools represent 12 percent of the district's overall budget, Greene said, answering a question from Donna Hayes, a club member and chairwoman of the Donald Trump presidential campaign in Manatee County. Hayes said she had a grandchild enrolled in a charter school and was curious as to how the schools operated.
Money for the charter schools comes from the state and is funneled through the Manatee County school district. Charter schools have more authority than district schools in how that money is spent. Most charters have specific niche programs -- like science or the arts -- and they're able to spend more of that money in those areas.
"They have full authority," Greene said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.