School Board Readies to Approve Lowest Tax in at Least 22 Years, But Without Cheers
FlaglerLive | July 26, 2016
The Flagler County School Board this evening will approve the district’s property tax rate for the coming year in the first of two public hearings. The second is on Sept. 6. The new tax rate equates to a 4.2 percent decrease from the current rate for homeowners and businesses, which will make a noticeable difference on tax bills.
The local school board has nothing to do with that tax rate. It’s set by lawmakers in Tallahassee.
The current rate is $7.255 per $1,000 in taxable value. For a $150,000 house with the $25,000 homestead exemption (the $50,00 exemption applies to other government taxes, but not the school board), that works out to a $907 bill for the year. Next year, the tax rate will fall to $6.952 per $1,000 in taxable value. That will bring down the bill to $869, a $38 saving. But since property values have increased 5 percent on average, it’ll end up being a wash.
While the school district has no say in setting the tax rate, it also has no say ion what revenue it will get from the state. That depends on several factors out of its control, including student enrollment, the state’s own complicated per-student funding formula, and a cost-differential that this year is not favoring Flagler County. All of which explains why the school board is not cheering the new budget, exactly, even though district revenue is expected to increase by about $1.5 million (not including half a million dollars for the restoration of the district’s Adults with Disabilities program that the Legislature cut off last year.)
In the coming year, Flagler County’s per-student funding will be $6,915. It’s an increase of more than $100 per student from last year. But it is the third-lowest level of per-student funding out of 67 counties in Florida. Putnam County has a higher per-student funding base, as do Volusia and St. Johns. The reason: the state calculates that Flagler County has a lower cost of living. So it awards fewer dollars to the district.The roughly 1 percent increase in funding per student looks like an increase on paper. But when inflation is take into account, plus local fixed costs such as expected step-raises (raises awarded faculty and staff for years of experience), plus the expected re-calculations of student population numbers over the year, which always fluctuate and have generally gone down, not up, reducing funding mid-year, the 1 percent increase is quickly erased.
“For reference,” Finance Director Tom Tant said, “our step in our payroll is 2 percent. I’ve gone over this with the principals, they know the atmosphere we’re working in, and they understand what we’re working in.”
The total budget is $98.6 million. But that may not be the year’s final figure. “This budget revenue has always been higher than what we finish with at the end of the year,” Tant said. “Every year. So this by far is what makes the newspapers, etc., and we will never see all this money,” Tant said.
The reason is that the state is in the habit of recalculating its allocations to districts during the year. Whatever total the Legislature has allocated will be divided according to student population. If the state’s population surges unexpectedly mid-year, the same dollar total must be divided among the 67 districts. That results in a per-student funding cut mid-year. In the past eight years, the Flagler County school district has lost between $1.5 million and $5.4 million at a time in such re-calculations. It lost money in seven of the past eight years. The exception was 2009, when it got an additional $1.8 million.
“If you look historically at the budget it’s very, very clear,” Colleen Conklin, who chairs the school board, said. “We start up with one promised budget from the budget, and mid-year, year after year after year we’re notified that anticipate you’re going to have to cut your budget by over $1 million.”
Meanwhile, the property tax rate is, according to the school board, at a 22-year low: the board sets the limit at 22 years because it doesn’t readily have records before 1995, when the rate was at $10.52 per $1,000 in taxable value.