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School tax rate dips 16 cents
Higher assessments still mean higher taxes and more state funding cuts are expected.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published July 18, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - When the Pasco School Board had its budget workshop last week, it held out a 3-cent reduction in its property tax rate as the good news.
Turns out that Pasco property owners will feel even less of a sting from the school district.
The state Department of Education, which tells every district what to charge to meet its "required local effort," has set the Pasco tax rate even lower - 16 cents lower, to be precise. So instead of taxing $7.372 per $1,000 of assessed value, as initially presented, the district will charge $7.208.
Statewide, the average millage rate dipped by about the same 16 cents, according to the certification memo sent out late Monday. The reason, in a nutshell, is higher taxable property values. Pasco's tax roll went up almost 15 percent, to $29.7-billion.
Because the per-student funding level remains the same, though, the state would have to come up with the difference. And there's the rub, Pasco chief financial officer Olga Swinson says.
"We still don't know what the budget decrease will be," Swinson said, but it appears likely to settle at 4 percent of all money from the state.
And if the state is to provide a larger portion of the budget, it stands to reason that the cut will be larger, too. Swinson now estimates that the state could slice more than $14-million from the county's share.
After accounting for enrollment growth and rising costs of things like utilities and insurance, "bottom line is we have no increases," Swinson said Tuesday during a meeting of the Penny for Pasco Oversight Committee.
Already, she said, the district has frozen spending for everything that does not directly touch the classroom. It has put off hiring extra teachers until enrollment reality matches projections. And finance workers are poring over budgets to see where cuts could be made most painlessly.
Lawmakers are expected to have a special session in September to approve any needed budget cuts to make up for an expected revenue shortfall of more than $1-billion. In the meantime, Gov. Charlie Crist has directed all state agencies, including the Department of Education, to find ways to scale back spending by Aug. 8.
Swinson and finance directors from some other counties are headed to Tallahassee on Friday to advise deputy commissioner Linda Champion of their recommendations. One target on everyone's plate is the new Merit Award Program, a $150-million teacher performance pay plan.
Since it hasn't already gone into effect, many district officials contend it would be one easy chunk of change to put back into the general education budget.
The Pasco School Board is scheduled to discuss its 2007-08 budget at its July 24 meeting. Swinson said she hoped to have more suggestions on where to cut by that time.