A quick glance into the St. Johns County School Board’s 2016-17 tentative millage and budget plan reveals that a tax increase — at least for this year — might not happen.
According to Michael Degutis, the chief financial officer for the school district, millage rates decreased nearly 5 percent compared to last year. In contrast to that sharp drop, property evaluation assessments increased to almost 9 percent.
Although Degutis said homeowners can expect the good news of lower property taxes this year, the school district will need to prepare for some financial strain due to state cutbacks.
This year, the proposed total millage rate of 6.867 is composed of 1.5 mills for capital improvement, 4.619 for required local effort and 0.748 for basic discretionary rates.
Degutis said the 0.361 drop in millage from last year’s total of 7.228 marks the sixth year in a row the required local effort, which is set by the state, has been reduced. The 1.5 capital millage, the maximum millage granted by the state legislature, will generate more than $34 million for the district.
Degutis said revenue
generated by the half-cent sales tax will also relieve some of the burden from maintenance,
technology, transportation, security improvements and construction needs, but it’s not a means to an end.
Superintendent Joe Joyner noted during the special board meeting on Tuesday that the sales tax is also not applicable to operating needs. He added that the state, although on the road to financial recovery, still hasn’t given the district much breathing room in terms of funding.
“We’re growing 4 percent every year,” Joyner said. “A 1 percent [funding] increase [from state] gives us less discretionary dollars to do what we need.”
For the upcoming school year, per-student funding will be $7,024.06, nearly a $100 increase from last year. But Patrick Canan, the district board chair, said that number is still far behind previous years.
“We can see that even nine years later, we’re still less per student than we were in 2007,” Canan said.
In 2007-08, total funding per student was $7,203.43.
Although the estimated property taxes for 2016-17 will be close to $24 billion, Degutis said that estimate is still $7 million short of 2008 revenue.
While reviewing the numbers, board members bounced several concerns back and forth, mostly dealing with funding to hire staff for the new schools.
Joyner said the board should decide how it will balance the expenditures of the growing district with soon-to-be capped revenue incomes. He added that preparation in the next couple of years will play the biggest role in ensuring job security for the district’s teachers.
With just under $5 million left in the unassigned fund balance, board member Beverly Slough said those concerns should be considered even sooner.
“We’re going to have to start making those decisions next year,” Slough said.
The board approved 5-0 the tentative millage and budget advertisement for the first public hearing, which will take place early next month.