In 2006-2007, the Florida State Legislature took .25 mil of your property taxes designated for public education capital expenditure and directed it into the General Revenue fund. This was done so that Florida would have a balanced budget as required by the Florida Constitution. This “temporary fix” worked so well, the State Legislature decided to take an additional .25 mil the following year - funding which has never been returned to public education. That took the School District of Lee County from collecting $200 per $100,000 of property value to $150. This year, that equates to approximately $39 million. Coupled with the elimination of PECO (Public Education Capital Outlay) dollars provided by the state to fund new school construction, we receive a fraction of the money required to build and maintain our schools. Now don’t be fooled, you are still paying the 2.0 tax millage, but 25% of that millage, is being used at the discretion of the State Legislature on things other than public education where it was originally intended.
Lee County is one of six growing counties in the state of Florida. We add between 1,500 and 2,000 students a year, the equivalent of one high school. We are over capacity in our East and South Zone schools and quickly getting there in the West Zone. Do you know what the other 5 growing counties have that we don’t? A surtax.
Your School Board chose a ½-cent sales tax because the financial burden on taxpayers is low. For example, an average family of four would pay $64 in additional tax each year. That breaks down to just over $5 a month, or to put it in context, a Starbuck’s coffee. Between 25-35% of the tax will be paid by tourists; that’s like getting items at a 30% discount. And finally, a sales tax generates more sustainable revenue than other options, including raising impact fees or property taxes, which is a move that is wildly unpopular throughout the state of Florida.
This Board also feels the ½-cent solution is far better than borrowing the money. While borrowing is a far easier solution, it is also far less responsible to the taxpayers of Lee County. Currently, the School District of Lee County pays $51.4 million in debt service. That is money going to a bank, rather than being reinvested in our children’s education. In addition, that number will more than triple if we have to borrow money to meet the classroom building needs that will be required in the next ten years.
We need a solution that provides us with a sustainable income source that will allow us to provide the necessary infrastructure, safety and security and technology upgrades without having to borrow money and shift the burden on future generations.
The ½-cent sales tax initiative is the very last item on the ballot this year but our children and community should be the first thought in every voter’s mind.
Steven K. Teuber, School Board Member, District 4