School budgeting cannot be done based on ‘what ifs’

The following was published in the Citrus Chronicle on August 13th, 2016

School budgeting cannot be done based on ‘what ifs’

36119-8Tammy Wilson
Special to the Citrus County Chronicle

On Aug. 30, 2016, Citrus County voters will be asked to approve or deny the Citrus County School Board’s resolution to levy a ½-cent sales surtax for Capital Outlay.

Many voters question the need for the levy, and there have been many comments made such as:

  • What if the County Commissioners reinstate impact fees?
  • What about Duke Energy’s gas plants coming online?
  • What if property values rise?
  • What if the state increases the millage rate for Capital Outlay?

These questions are all valid questions and points, but all are based on speculation and “what ifs.” The school district cannot base the Capital Budget on “what ifs” and speculation, it needs a reliable consistent source of funding.

At the close of the fiscal year on June 30, the CCSB has approximately $22.5 million in its Capital Fund. The CCSB has an average of $20 million in capital costs a year, this does not take into consideration any major remodeling or construction projects, it only includes what is needed to keep our schools safe for our students and faculty.

Therefore, most of the money in the Capital Fund will be spent during the 2016-17 fiscal year.

During the 2016-2017 fiscal year, tax revenue will generate approximately $13 million, PECO maintenance and other sources will generate under $1 million; this is still a $6 million deficit of funds for 2017-18 capital projects. Even though property values are on the rise, they would have to increase to $13.5 billion from the current $9 billion, to generate enough property tax along with other funding revenue to cover the $20 million in expenses next year.

The time to act is now, Citrus County School Board members have made the choice to ask the voters to allow them to levy a 1/2-cent sales surtax for Capital Outlay. It takes an average of two and a half years to plan, fund and build a new school; they have to start preparing now. Even though the CCSB has used the numbers from 2007- 2008 to illustrate how much funding they have lost, the fact that the cost of labor and commodities has risen since 2007- 2008 seems to be missing from many conversations. The CCSB has been prudent in its spending and cut costs where applicable to get the minimal spending down to $20 million a year.

Highly rated school systems are a draw for young parents building a future and planning a move. “How are the schools?” is the first question many home buyers looking to relocate ask.

One of the big draws to Citrus County for my parents 27 years ago, when my sisters were still in school, was the quality of the public schools. As a parent, I decided to stay in Citrus County mainly because of the quality of education my two daughters received and that my son and two granddaughters are currently receiving.

As a community we have to act if we want to continue to draw people to our county to boost our economy, we need to give our students, teachers and the entire school system the support they deserve. This is the absolute best message Citrus County could send to any business or family considering moving to Citrus County. When voting, consider this: When you shop or eat at the big chain stores in surrounding counties, you are contributing and supporting their schools, paying an extra 1/2-cent sales tax. Why would you not want to support your own schools, faculty and students the same way?

Every student deserves the best learning environment possible, we owe it to them to have the best facilities possible.

Hopefully, on Aug. 30, the voters will agree.

Tammy Wilson is director of finance for the Citrus County School District

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