School Board poised to raise tax
By BARBARA BEHRENDT
© St. Petersburg Times,
INVERNESS -- The School Board will be asked to approve a $152.5-million budget and a property tax increase of 2.4 percent after the final public hearing on the spending plan at 7 tonight.
Officials have blamed the increase on higher utility costs and state efforts to shift more of the financial burden to support education onto local taxpayers. Board members said Monday that they had their copies of the final budget delivered on Friday and were still examining details of the plan.
While the budget includes standard employee pay raises for increased experience, additional pay raises have not yet been settled for any of the district's employees. Earlier this summer, there was concern that the district's administrators had no money available for raises and they vowed to comb through the various department budgets to find dollars to provide raises.
They blamed the state Legislature for tying too many strings to funds rather than allowing flexible spending decisions.
No negotiations with any of the unions have taken place since that time but that will change soon. Officials from the three employee unions are scheduled to meet with Finance Director Sam Hurst on Monday to hear a presentation on the state of the budget and answer questions submitted by Terry Flaherty, president of the Citrus County Education Association, and Leo Krug of the Teamsters union.
Regular talks on pay raises and other contract provisions are expected to resume after that.
The board is scheduled to meet behind closed doors during tonight's meeting for an executive session to discuss employee contracts and raises. Separate from the negotiated pay raises, teachers are expected to receive $850 one-time bonuses which were approved by the Legislature this year.
The budget also includes more than $18-million in capital projects including almost $5-million to construct a new cafeteria at Citrus High School, $1.5-million for improvements at the Withlacoochee Technical Institute including a new media center and $1.3-million in various projects at the high schools to help with the current overcrowding problems.
The proposed property tax rate is 8.78 mills. Last year's rate was 8.571 mills. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 of taxable property value.
Under the new rate, the owner of a $75,000 home with the standard $25,000 homestead exemption would get a tax bill of $439 to support schools. Last year, the tax bill on the same home would have been $428.55. Property owners also pay additional amounts to support county, city and other taxing entities.
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