Local News

School board supports half-cent sales tax referendum

LAKE PLACID - Citing numerous school maintenance and security needs, the Highlands County School Board supports putting a half-cent sales tax referendum on the November ballot.

At Tuesday's school board meeting, Superintendent Wally Cox said, "Instead of us increasing the millage, it would really make more sense to do a half-cent sales tax."

With the sales tax, everyone pays a little bit and the big purchases are capped so you don't pay it on the full price of a car, he said.

About 35 percent of the sales taxes are paid by tourists or part-time residents, he said.

School Board Vice Chairman Bill Brantley noted the need for the additional funding.

After reviewing the district's school campuses four times during the annual facility walk-throughs, it seems like the project list doesn't change, he said. It's all based upon security, needs and deteriorating facilities.

In Avon Park there are schools that have the original windows, which are not energy efficient causing a loss of air conditioning and power, he said. Some of the schools are 40 to 50 years old.

He wouldn't have brought up the half-cent sales tax if he didn't support it, Brantley noted.

"I know it's not going to be a popular thing among certain groups in the community," he said. "But it is something I really feel is going to have to be looked at and it is going to be necessary.

School Board Chairman Ronnie Jackson agreed with Brantley.

Many of the facility problems will just get worse if they are not corrected soon, he said. "I certainly support this half-cent sales tax."

School Board Member Jan Shoop said if anyone questioned the need they should be taken on a walk-through campus tour.

"We hate to say we need a tax, but we need money to help with the situations at the schools," she said.

School Board Member Donna Howerton said state funding has been reduced to the point that the district is unable to do all the necessary maintenance and replace school buses.

Cox said after more details are gathered, the school board will consider approving a resolution on the half-cent sales tax sometime before July 1, which is the deadline to notify the Supervisor of Elections for inclusion of the referendum on the November ballot.

Prior to the resolution, Cox recommended that the board take "official action" and vote on the issue at the next school board meeting, which is April 8.

When the district pursued a half-cent sales tax in 2005 many things were done right, but many of the strategies didn't work, he noted.

Some said the senior citizens wouldn't support it, Cox said, "but, I really believe it was because the younger people and the employees of the school board didn't actually go vote."

Also, Cox said he tried to do most of the work himself.

"I do think we need to get some people outside of the school system who would support it," he said.

Cox noted that in 2010 the district was successful, with little promotion, when voters approved a .25 mil property tax levy.

"Unfortunately that was for two years, only," he said.