SEBRING — Newly appointed School Board Member Jill Compton already broke from board tradition at her first meeting Tuesday by voting against advertising the School Board of Highlands County’s tentative budget.
In explaining her “no” vote, Compton cited the property tax rate increase in the preliminary tentative budget. She believes the district should not increase the rate while asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax.
The preliminary tentative budget shows an increase of .11 mills, from 5.017 to 5.127 mills, in the required local effort, which is specified by the state. The discretionary and building tax rates remain unchanged for an overall proposed increase in the school ad valorem rate of .11 mills from 7.265 to 7.375.
Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt stressed that these are preliminary numbers and the state will issue the final calculation on the required local effort on July 19, which will be the rate that will be advertised on July 25. A public hearing will be held July 28 followed by the board’s vote on the tentative budget.
“These numbers will change by the tentative hearing and before the final [hearing] based on the budget workshops that we do in August,” he said. “So these are just tentative numbers at this point.”
Superintendent Wally Cox explained that last year at this time the numbers showed a slight increase, but after the state issued the final tax rate for the required local effort, the district’s tax rate went down.
The board voted 4-1 to approve the advertising of the tentative budget. Compton cast the “no” vote.
After the meeting, Compton said she didn’t agree with raising the millage at this time.
“I know that we have to go through the process of advertising it, but if we advertise it that way then it looks like the board is in favor of it,” she said.
Compton said she understands that the tax rate can go down and hopefully it will go down.
“But, I think that if we are really going for the half-cent sales tax, which I am very much in favor of, what kind of message are we sending if we are asking for both - a millage increase and a half-cent sales tax,” Compton said.
School Board Candidate William “Pep” Hutchinson, III noted that it was a 4-1 vote to approve the advertising of the tentative budget with the four “senior” board members voting “yes” and Compton voting “no.”
“It didn’t come across to me as a team player,” he said of Compton’s vote.
Hutchison said it was explained at the meeting that the required local effort is mandatory or the district would not receive state funding.
“Why do you want to vote against that?” he said.
On June 27, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Compton to the District 5 Seat that has been vacant since the end of January by the resignation of Andy Tuck, who now serves on the State Board of Education.
Compton and four other candidates - Clinton T. Culverhouse, Trevor A. Murphy, Hutchinson, and William “Tres” Stephenson, III - will vie for the District 5 School Board Seat in the Aug. 26 primary election.