Superintendent Steve Lanier has decided it’s long past time to ask voters to consider passing a half-cent sales tax for the Franklin County Schools, a measure he believes takes advantage of a changing economy to meet the long-range needs of the district.
At the school board’s Jan. 27 regular meeting, Lanier secured unanimous permission from the board to approve an engagement letter to hire an attorney who will answer questions on the ins and outs of a possible ballot measure at an upcoming workshop. The attorney was slated to meet with Lanier Wednesday,
“I’m trying to think outside of the box,” said Lanier, noting that 25 of the state’s 67 school districts already have a half-cent sales tax in place, including Leon and Bay counties, as well as Jackson and Calhoun, with Wakulla now busy taking a hard look.
“We’re just in the preliminary stages. I want to get all the facts first and I want our board members to be on board with it,” he said. ““We may listen to him and decide not to do it.”
Chairman Stacy Kirvin was the only member of the board to comment last week on the proposal.
“With record inflation, it’s still going to be a tax,” he said. “I’ve sort of been against this. We would leave it up to voters. I do have trepidation.”
The superintendent said he would like to see the school board hold a workshop this month, since time is of the essence if the district wants to move forward with the ballot measure at the November general election. Such a sales tax can only be put before voters in even-numbered years, in keeping with presidential or statewide elections, Lanier said.
He said his preliminary understanding is that the monies raised from the sales tax could not be spent on employee salaries, nor to buy buses.
The money could go towards technology and bricks-and-mortar improvements, and Lanier contends a long-range plan to address these areas could go a long way towards getting a list of needed facilities up and running.
“Costs are going up every year,” he said. “To me it’s something I wished they would have done a long time ago. We can come in and use these dollars to upgrade classrooms. It might keep kids here.”
In addition to stressing the need to digitize all the classrooms, and bring in more advanced technology options, Lanier offered a list of needed facilities, from a centralized administration building on the main campus, to a building for pre-Kindergartners to a new bus barn to parking lots
He said data shows that for a family living on a $56,000 annual income, the half-penny tax would cost them an additional $6 a month, and bring in about $1.3 million per year.
Lanier also notes that just as county residents who shop outside the county in Tallahassee and Panama City pay a half-cent there, so too would a growing number of long and short-term visitors to Franklin County have to pay it here.
He said millions of dollars in emergency monies, many tied to the coronavirus pandemic, are going away in the years to come.
Lanier said the school in Eastpoint will be fully paid off next year and that those monies that had been going towards the mortgage can be directed to other capital needs.
But the need for enabling the district to meet future needs remains, even as construction costs are skyrocketing, he said.
“It’s gone way out of hand,” Lanier said. “If we wait another couple of years, we’re never going to get it built. We’re going to have to start replacing things; you might as well start now.
“We have got to start thinking ahead, there has not been strategic long-range planning for the district,” he said. “I’m looking out for the future of our students in Franklin County.”