Discussion on Manatee County School District funding continues; board will return to impact fee issue

Manatee County School District
Manatee County School District

Manatee County homeowners who saw an 8.75 percent property value increase to their $150,000 home this year will pay an additional $45 to help fund the Manatee County School District.

The Manatee County School Board took a deeper look into the tentative 2016-17 budget during a workshop on Tuesday. At a previous meeting, the board approved the tentative budget, but took no action during the workshop.

If there was no change in the assessed value of a $150,000 home, taxpayers can expect to pay about $43 less to fund the school district, according to district estimates. Both estimates take into account a $25,000 homestead exemption when estimating the school taxes, according to Heather Jenkins, the school district’s director of budget.

“The millage operates on kind of an inverse with the value, when the value increases, the millage decreases,” she said.

Tuesday’s workshop focused on the district’s operating budget and didn’t include the capital budget.

“This is a two-workshop series,” Superintendent Diana Greene said.

The 2016-17 tentative budget, which totals $608,263,176, doesn’t include any new programs or additions to the school district. The proposed budget starts with $16 million in general reserve and will end with about $12 million, which is a decrease, but still above the state-mandated 3 percent of estimated new revenues districts are required to maintain.

The final budget, which will be adopted Sept. 6, will rise above $608 million because additional internal service funds not yet finalized will be factored in.

During the operating budget discussion, the board members lamented “unfunded mandates,” or programs and services the state requires the school districts to run but doesn’t fund fully.

In many categories, the district spends much more than what the state allocates for the certain area, like transportation or making sure the district meets the class-size requirements.

Overall, the district spends $126 million in those areas than the state doles out to the district. To have a balanced budget, the district must use some of its discretionary funding to close that gap.

“Reducing class size sounds great, but if you’re going to make us doing things then help us out by paying for it,” board member Charlie Kennedy said.

Later in the meeting, Kennedy also floated the idea of changing the school board’s collection schedule on impact fees. The board first approved re-instating impact fees over a three-year period, asking for 50 percent of the maximum allowable rate the first year, 75 percent of the maximum allowable rate the second year and then collecting the full amount starting in the third year.

Initially, the board tried to tie the impact fees to a proposed extension of the half-cent sales tax, saying if voters approved the extension, the district would only collect 50 percent of the maximum-allowed impact fees, but the board reversed course on that after community outcry.

The half-cent sales tax extension goes before voters in November, and Kennedy said if the district wants to collect all the funds it can, it would only make sense to also collect impact fees at the full rate.

“We’re talking the talk, but we’re not walking the walk,” Kennedy said.

No formal action was taken, but board members discussed whether they should vote on the issue at length.

Superintendent Greene said it may seem inconsistent. Board member Bob Gause said he did not support it. Board member John Colon didn’t support the idea, either.

Board member Dave Miner supported it and said he never understood why it was a three-year implementation schedule.

“The need is there now,” Miner said.

Board chairwoman Karen Carpenter said she’d like to see a formal resolution come before the board at the Aug. 23 meeting, and asked the board attorney to draft a resolution.

In other board business Tuesday:

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney