CHIPLEY - Eyeing the horizon for future funding of new and current projects, Washington County School Board still did not budge on its decision to decrease its property tax levy. However, the amount of the decrease was debated at a recent final budget hearing.
At the final hearing held Monday evening to approve the tentative millage and budget, the School Board voted down Superintendent Joseph Taylor's recommendation to decrease the capital expense millage rate to 1.25 mills - a quarter less than the maximum amount of 1.5 mills, which the district has usually held.
However, after School Board member Milton Brown made the motion to approve Taylor's recommendation, School Board members Terry Ellis and Dr. Lou Cleveland were silent, causing the vote to die for lack of a second.
School Board member Vann Brock was absent at the meeting.
"My personal opinion is it's too early to be taking a further hit on the millage rate," Ellis said. "I think the needs are going to be there - especially if we're going to continue to have student growth. It would be better to hold the line in the reduction of over the last few years. Let's see what we can do to move forward - not just tow the line and tread water."
In addition to stating that the half-cent sales tax monies should be used for "enhancements ... rather than going towards supplanting what we could've done maintenance wise with our 1.5 mills," Ellis pointed out the state required millage rate has decreased by about 1.5 mills over the course of three years.
However, Taylor rebutted Ellis' statement, reminding the board the state required rate does not reflect a conscious decision by the School Board and is only the result of the decline in property value.
"We haven't done anything," Taylor said. "We've done what the state has told us to do. The state has said this is what you levied. I don't want us to take credit for something we haven't done."
Brown articulated his support for the decreased 1.25 mills under the School Board's repeated assurance to voters to decrease millage rates if they were to vote in favor of the Half-Cent Sales Tax - which passed Aug. 28 referendum with 2,646 votes or 58-percent of the vote and 1,931 against.
"I agree with all of that, I agree with the need, and I've agreed with it all along as far as not cutting back," Brown said. "However, it was stated we'd take a serious look at it and my fear is that people might say 'well, we supported the half-cent sales tax' based on what might've been said at some of the meetings."
"I don't want people think we're changing things," he added.
After hearing the breakdown of millages from Director of Finance Lucy Carmichael and the dying of the first motion for 1.25 mills, Superintendent Taylor made a new recommendation of 1.35 mills.
With Brown making the motion, and a second from Ellis, the motion passed unanimously.
"I was fine with the decrease, I was afraid decreasing it to the 1.25 was a little bit too much," Cleveland said, noting she had previously inquired about reducing the rate by a tenth, but had not received a clear answer.
"I didn't want us to get into our five-year plan of what we have to build and then not have the money to do it because we decreased the millage rate - and then we have to raise it," Cleveland added. "My concern was can we sustain that over the years."
She said she was satisfied with the 1.35 mills, that "it was a reduction that we can substain."
The .10 increase in recommended millage equals about $134,000 in tax revenue. The breakdown of the School Board's total millage of 6.2900 is as follows: required local effort - 4.1920, discretionary operating - 0.7480, local capital improvement - 1.3500.
Trailing at the end of the millage discussion and vote, the board approved the tentative district budget at $88,276,881.36 with $39,667,731.46 under the general fund and $3,119,922.33 for capital projects.
Also at the meeting, the School Board learned it will not be able to move forward with building ADA complaint restrooms at the stadium. A geo-technician report showed "bad dirt," which would cost the district $61,500 at minimum to dig out and replace. The board scheduled a workshop to be held 3 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the way forward.