Local News

School district to consider half-cent sales tax referendum

SEBRING - The Highlands County School Board will discuss today the possibility of putting a half-cent sales tax referendum on the November ballot to raise funds for school construction and maintenance projects.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt said Monday that information will be presented to the school board to see if it wants to move forward with the referendum.

If the board supports it, then a "strategy" would be developed to market it to voters and get it passed, he said. "It's kind of like what we did last time, but it will be done a little bit differently this time.

"We had a special election last time; we are not doing that this time; we are going to do it on the general election, if they [the school board] go for it."

The "last time" Averyt referred to was nearly 10 years ago when the district hoped to fund school construction projects with a half-cent sales tax, but the referendum was voted down in May 2005.

The district then borrowed $45 million to pay for classroom construction to cut the number of portable classrooms, which peaked around 200 in the 2006-07 school year.

This time the money from the tax would pay for capital projects and maintenance items such as heating and air-conditioning units and roofs, Averyt said.

How much money would a half-cent sales tax generate?

When the district proposed it in 2005, during the peak of the housing market, the half-cent sales tax would have brought in about $6 million annually, he said. Now, it would likely bring in about $4.2 million to $4.5 million.

Currently, the Highlands County sales tax rate is 7 percent with 6 percent levied by the State of Florida and 1 percent levied by Highlands County.

Averyt prepared a packet of information for the school board that includes a list of possible projects.

The project list includes: construction of classroom wings at Lake Country and Park elementary schools and the construction of a bus facility at the district's Lake Placid property.

District-wide proposed remodeling and maintenance projects include: heating and air conditioning, roofing, carpet replacement, drainage, upgrading of physical education and athletic facilities, covered walkways, parking and paving and fire alarm and security projects.

School Board Chairman Ronnie Jackson said the half-cent sales tax is just up for discussion after the board had asked for information about it from Superintendent Wally Cox.

"They are just bringing some numbers to us and some facts to discuss," he said. "There hasn't been any real concrete decision made yet."

The district's repair fund is down, but there many maintenance needs so the board is looking for a way to generate revenue to update the district's schools, Jackson said.

The School Board of Highlands County will meet today at 5:30 p.m. in the Garland Boggus Board Room, 426 School St., Sebring.