Franklin County voters will be faced with two school tax levies in November, and with the word “half” in both of them, it could get a little confusing.
On Tuesday morning, Shannon Venable, the district’s director of finance, secured unanimous permission from the county commission to place renewal of the half-mill operating levy on the Nov. 8 ballot.
First approved in 2008, and renewed every four years after that, this half-mill property tax is earmarked for salaries and benefits and other operating costs. When it was first put on the ballot 14 years ago, the school district lowered its capital outlay millage by a half-mill, and made the case that the shift did not represent a tax increase, but a revenue-neutral shift in taxation priorities.
This half-mill was last renewed in June 2020, and the district had planned to place this four-year measure again on the ballot in 2024.
But the Florida legislature recently changed the law, effective Oct. 2022, that requires that all such levies must be placed on the general election ballot, and cannot be voted on at a special election, as had been the case with Franklin County dating back to 2008.
To make sure there are no interruptions in the dollars, which would be the case if it waited until Nov. 2024, the school board decided to take the next general election opportunity, which is this Nov. 2022.
If approved in November, the half-mill would ensure the existing half-mill levy would be uninterrupted, and would run from July 1, 2024,through June 30, 2028.
“It’s a tax neutral shift, and it only affects Franklin County property owners, who are already paying it anyways,” said Venable.
By moving it from capital outlay to operating monies, it allows flexibility to use the funds to hire, and retain teachers, as well as for a host of other operating costs at both Franklin County Schools and the Apalachicola Bay Charter School, such as security, increased career and technical opportunities and athletics, she said.
The other levy voters will face in the fall is a new half-cent sales tax, which has already been approved for the ballot.
This half-cent tax, if approved by a majority of voters, would mean Franklin would join 25 other districts in Florida that currently levy the tax, which is limited to capital purposes, such as construction and technology.
Venable said this tax would largely be paid by tourists and other visitors passing through the county, just as Franklin County residents pay it when they shop in Leon or Bay counties.
If approved, collection of the half-cent tax would begin Jan. 1, 2023, and terminate on Dec. 31, 2042. Estimates are the tax would bring in to the district in the neighborhood in excess of $1.2 million annually. The ABC School would also receive a proportionate portion of these funds.
The half-cent monies could be used to acquire or improve school facilities and campuses, including land acquisition and improvement, and design and engineering costs.
New construction or replacement of athletic fields, track resurfacing, and lighting replacement and upgrades at various athletic facilities could be funded by the surtax revenues. Safety and security improvements could include fire alarm systems and intrusion alarms, cameras and video surveillance as well.
Retrofitting and upgrading technology implementation, of both hardware and software, could be covered as well, along with purchase or maintenance of school buses.