By ALICIA LEONARD
The Walton County School Board(WCSB) met in two special meetings, back-to-back, on Sept. 10 at 5 p.m., and 5:15 p.m. to go over the final financial report and budget amendments for the 2012-13 school year, and to put the final millage rate and budget for the 2013-14 year up to a vote in a somewhat tumultuous public hearing.
The first meeting at 5 p.m. was pertaining to the annual financial report and final budget amendments for the fiscal year 2012-2013.
Finance Director Mary Hobbs presented the board with the annual report which stated that the district came in over the state requirement of having 3 percent of their fund balance retained into the next year for possible emergencies. Out of the slightly over $65 million general fund balance, $2,107,416 was carried over, exceeding state requirements of 3 percent for the district’s 2012-2013 year.
Walton County School Superintendent Carlene Anderson recommended the annual financial report, including budget amendments be approved by the board and the board passed the request 5-0.
The board then moved to adjourn, before reopening the second meeting 15 minutes later.
The public hearing to adopt the final millage rate and budget for 2013-2014 opened with Hobbs going over the final details. The estimated budget for the 2013-2014 school year is $99,919, 756, an estimated increase of $6,233,000 over the 2012-2013 budget .
Much of the additional revenue to be incurred by the new budget included a Required Local Effort (RLE) increase mandated by the Florida Legislature. An increase in capital projects, including new school construction counted towards $5,706,153. The final overall millage proposed was 5.659 mills, an increase of .646 mills over last year’s budget, exceeding the roll-back rate by 17.32 percent.
In the operating budget alone, over $53 million of the $66,453,211 appropriated goes towards salaries and benefits for the district.
Historically, the 5.659 mills request is lower than the millage rates of the years 1988-2004. Operating budget millage has stayed the same since 2009 and capital projects at 1.393 mills is rising back to 2003-2007 rates. RTE rates, handed down by the state have been steadily climbing since the 2006-2007 school budget year.
Board chairman Mark Davis opened the public comments section of the meeting and two residents spoke against the increase.
The first to speak to the board, Doug Nolan, brought up a piece of cardboard material to show the board his personal tax information and increases paid through-out the past years. Nolan requested that the information only be made visible to the board.
“I just wanted to show you a personal thing about what the TRIM notice is going to do to me personally,” Nolan told the board. He told the board that the new millage would increase his taxes by over 13 percent and if the trend continued, his taxes would be doubled in the next six years. “This is a time when the middle class is suffering so much. I’d just appreciate it if you would try and strike a balance between the people paying the bills and the education of Walton County children,” he added.
Anderson responded to Nolan as a point of clarification, “The majority of the increase that you noted to the board tonight is an increase in Required Local Effort. We are required by the state to levy that. I can’t change what to recommend to the board under required, nor could they change it either.” Anderson added that capital outlay also increased the budget, due to schools being “overrun” with students and “exponential” growth in the south end of the county. Anderson added, “the board does not have to pass the millage to build buildings, but we are out of room and have no place to put children.”
Nolan expressed his concern that increasing the amount every year would tax some out of homes and properties.
Hobbs read the resolution determining revenue and millage to the board and audience.
Anderson recommend the approval of the resolution and a motion was made and seconded. Davis called again for public comments and one man responded from the audience, “no, we don’t want any of it raised.” Davis requested the man come to the microphone and say his name for the record.
Gary Souders said he and his wife live in Walton County and “we’ve had enough taxation and we want you to stop raising taxes for everything you need. No more. Get it somewhere else. We don’t need this. We want our taxes lowered, all of them. Sixty percent of the property tax in this county goes to the school. That’s unacceptable,” he said before dropping the microphone onto the table.
Davis then called for board discussion and added, “I just want to point out, since 1997 through 2010, 2011, the total millage has been halved from 9.354 mills to 4.654 mills. Obviously, we were the beneficiaries of a pretty healthy tax base. The capital projects went from 1.393 mills to .900 mills from 2003 to 2012. This is the first tax increase this board has done since 1998-1999 school year. We have scrimped and saved. I don’t like raising taxes no more than anyone else. I pay them just like everyone else does. We’ve tried to make do with less for a long, long time and we are at a point…. I’ve scrubbed this budget. I know you guys [the board] have scrubbed this budget. But, if there is anything you think we need to cut out, now is the time to say it, if not, then let us know now. We are finally at the point that we have to do this, sadly, and I just wanted to say that for the record.”
Souders then approached the board again and responded they were “moving the line around” adding, “this is the wrong time to do this. Bad for the local economy, bad for local businesses,” before dropping the microphone a second time and walking away from the table.
Davis called for any more comments and with none forthcoming called the question from the board on their vote. The board passed the millage resolution 3-2 with Faye Leddon and Sharon Roberts being the nay votes.
Davis then called for a vote on the 2013-2014 budget. The board passed the budget 3-2 with Roberts and Leddon being the nay votes.
The board then moved to close the public meeting and adjourn.
To see more about the WCSB, school activities as well as documents, go to http://www.walton.k12.fl.us/.
The next regular meeting of the WCSB is scheduled for Sept. 17 at 5 p.m., and coverage of it will run in the Sept. 26 edition of the Herald Breeze.