SEBRING - The School Board of Highlands County voted to lower property taxes as an increase in state funding helps the district pay for more teachers.
By a unanimous vote, the school board approved a proposed property tax of $7.265 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which is .443 mills lower than the 2012-13 rate of $7.698 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
The district's tentative total budget for 2013-14 is $124.38 million, which is about $1.9 million less than the 2012-13 budget of $126.01 million.
Local revenue, which is primarily from property taxes, will decrease by $2.5 million to $27.96 million, but the total state and federal funding will increase by about $6 million, according to the tentative budget.
Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt said the state funding increase made if possible for the district to hire additional teachers to bring back the planning period for secondary teachers.
The tentative budget shows an increase of 42 classroom teachers and two district level teachers. With a cut of 9.5 support positions, the district will have a net increase of 34.5 positions.
Salary and benefits comprise 83 percent of the district's general fund budget.
Highlands Today asked if the district was able to maintain its reserve or contingency fund level.
Averyt responded: "We are still working on it; the budget is not complete; we still have to do workshops with the budget, but this is a tentative budget.
"I think our fund balance went down a little bit, but we are still closing the books and I won't know that number for sure for another week or two," he said.
Averyt noted the board can lower the millage, but cannot raise it from the 7.265 mils at the final budget public hearing, which is scheduled for 5:05 p.m. Sept. 10.
At the end of the school board meeting, School Board Member Bill Brantley said the school district has an aging school bus fleet and hasn't bought any new buses in years.
Also, during the annual facility walk-throughs, the school board repeatedly hears about improvements or repairs principals would like to see on their campuses, he said.
"We just don't have the funding to do it or the money set aside to do it and we need to do it before things really start to deteriorate," Brantley said. "I didn't push for it much this year, which was more about the planning period and lowering the ad valorem tax. I think next year we need to focus on some of our facility improvements and obviously our bus fleet."
The tentative budget shows that for a property with a taxable assessment of $100,000 the annual school taxes will be $727 in 2012-13 compared to $770 in 2012-13 and $874 in 2003-04.