Andy Dance is a member of the Flagler Chamber of Commerce board of directors. He’s also a member of the Flagler County School Board.
Earlier this year, when the chamber board voted to push a November referendum for a new tax that fund large commercial-building construction in the county, Dance was part of the unanimous vote approving the initiative. The County Commission in June agreed to place the referendum.
- Battling Referendums: School Tax Will Compete With Building Tax in November
- Commission Approves Chamber’s Tax Referendum for November Ballot
- How the Chamber’s Tax Proposal Undermines Schools, Cities and the County
- Flagler Chamber Wants To Hike Your Taxes
- Andy Dance’s Website
Two months ago, and again last week, when the school board discussed putting a levy of its own on the November ballot, Dance was opposed–both times, even though, he said Tuesday, “my first and foremost concern is here, with my elected board”–meaning the school board. He said he researched the issue and saw no conflict in voting for the tax the chamber was pushing as opposed to voting against the one on his elected board. “If it’s a perceived conflict, I think it’s unfortunate,” he said. “I wouldn’t want there to be a perceived conflict. I think they’re both important issues.”
Former school board member Jim Guines raised the matter of a conflict in a comment on this site last week. “As far as I can see,” Guines wrote, referring to Dance, “one has his nose so far up the chambers’ agenda that he is caught with a serious conflict of interest forcing him to not support the school system’s need to support the tax for the board.”
Dance said he may be rethinking his position. “I’m looking at it all over again to make sure it gets its proper investigation,” he said. “If there’s new information that comes forward, I’m going to look at all the information that I can. I still think that both of them on there–this looks bad in the eyes of the general property owner.”
Both proposals are asking voters to approve an equal amount in taxes: 25 cents per $1,000 in taxable value. For a $150,000 homesteaded house, the tax the chamber board favored–branded the “economic development” tax and officially sponsored by Enterprise Flagler, the private-public economic development partnership–would cost $25 annually, at today’s valuations. The school levy would cost $31, because only half the homestead exemption applies to school taxes. The “economic development” tax is a new tax entirely. The school tax isn’t: taxpayers are already paying for it on their current bills. The school board had the authority to levy it on its own, and has done so year after year. But state law changed this year, forcing school boards to put the tax to referendum if boards wanted to keep generating the same revenue. Most school boards around the state are doing so as other sources of revenue, including local tax revenue, have fallen.
When the school board first discussed the tax referendum two months ago, then-Superintendent Bill Delbrugge recommended against placing it on the November ballot. His was worried that the electorate would feel bombarded by too many tax referendums, which would jeopardize two more such referendums Delbrugge considers more crucial (and far more lucrative) come 2010: a half-penny sales tax surcharge by the school board, and another half-penny surcharge by the county and by Palm Coast, which is up for renewal that year. The extra penny in sales tax has been in effect since 2003. It pays for infrastructure and technology in schools, and infrastructure in the city and the county.
Dance said the school board has other options if its referendum fails, which wouldn’t be the case with the economic development tax. If that one fails, “it’s probably dead,” Dance said. If the school tax fails, the board can again go before voters in two years with the same proposal, presumably in addition to the half-penny sales tax increase.
The school board hasn’t formally voted to place the levy on the November ballot. But in a discussion last week, three board members–Evie Shellenberger, Colleen Conklin and Sue Dickinson, with varying degrees of enthusiasm–said they’ll favor going ahead with the referendum, and formalize that decision on Aug. 4. Board member Trevor Tucker said he was undecided pending his discussion with supporters of the economic development tax. Tucker is running for re-election. Asked about the school levy during a candidates’ forum Tuesday evening, Tucker first said he’d support it then back-pedaled, saying he shouldn’t announce his vote with other board members present (although the meeting was public and publicized).
Should both referendums finally end up on the ballot, Dance said he “couldn’t be a spokesman for both. I’ll be a spokesperson for the school district.”
Enterprise Flagler hired Sandra Mullen to be the lead spokeswoman for the economic development tax. Chamber members are generally uncomfortable with Enterprise Flagler Executive Director Greg Rawls carrying the issue publicly because of his poorer speaking skills.
The school board hasn’t yet devised a strategy for its own levy. In previous cases (as in the 2002 half-penny tax), school board members were responsible for campaigning in favor of the issue. Boards are also allowed by law to spend small amounts of money advertising their own referendums.