SEBRING — After a “no” vote at her first school board meeting on July 8, Highlands County School Board Member Jill Compton was again the sole board member to vote “no” on a budget issue at Monday’s public hearing of the school district’s tentative budget.
By a 3-1 vote, with Compton voting “no,” the board approved a tentative 2014-15 property tax rate of 7.278 mils, which is a .013 increase from the 2013-14 rate of 7.265.
The .013 increase is in the “required local effort” millage that is set by the state, which increased from 5.017 to 5.030 mills.
In the tentative 2014-15 budget, the “discretionary” millage of .748 and the “building” millage of 1.5 were unchanged from the previous year.
After the board’s vote on the tentative tax rate, School Board Member Donna Howerton said she wanted to go on record with a statement.
“My responsibility as a board member is to take steps to assure students adequate education facilities through the finance procedures. I also want to say, just for the record, that I am going to continue as a board member, while I am still on this board go, to Tallahassee and ask for the funding,” she said.
Howerton explained the state sets the “local effort” property tax rate the school district can assess.
If she were to below that level, it would be hard for her as a board member to go to Tallahassee and say the district needs funding.
If she asks for money, “those in Tallahassee will say ‘you had it in your hand and you didn’t take it.’”
Howerton asked Assistant Superintendent of Business Operation Mike Averyt how much the proposed tax rate would be for a taxpayer.
Averyt responded the millage rate went up 1 cent per $1,000. So for a household of $100,000 of assessed valuation, it went up a dollar.
Howerton declared: “That is why I am taking the stance that I am taking tonight. It’s for our classrooms and the students and our teachers in Highlands County.”
Responding to Howerton’s remarks, Compton said: “I am not saying we shouldn’t take money from the state. My stance is that we are asking for monies from our 1/2-cent sales tax, which is great and hope that we get that, but we are asking also for this tax on top of that.”
The district can get money from different places as well, she said.
Speaking to Howerton, Compton said, “I completely understand your point of view as well. I know I am the odd man out.”
School Board Vice Chairman Bill Brantley said the 1/2-cent sales tax is not a guarantee.
“We do need to make sure we pay the bills first and that is why we are here,” he said.
Howerton said, “Exactly, Mr. Brantley, I agree.”
The board voted 4-0 to approve the tentative 2014-15 budget. School Board Chairman Ronnie Jackson was not present at the meeting.
At the July 8 school board meeting, Compton voted 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 tentative 2014-15 budget of $119,861,577 is an increase of $1,072,802 from the 2013-14 budget of $118,788,775.
According to the tentative property tax rate for 2014-15, the annual school taxes on a $125,000 property with a $25,000 homestead exemption, would be $728, which would be a $1 increase from 2013-14.
Averyt said: “We are still trying to balance the budget; this is just a preliminary tentative budget; there will be one more workshop on the 19th and they [school board] may make some more changes to it.”
The final budget workshop is scheduled for 3 p.m. Aug. 19.