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Pasco News

School tax rate goes down, bills up

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— Pasco County residents could see a drop in the rate they pay for school property taxes.

The Pasco County School Board//District//’s tentative budget for 2014-15 calls for a tax rate of $7.15 per $1,000 of taxable property value. That’s a 21 cent decrease from the current $7.36.

Based on that rate, the owner of a house valued at $200,000, after taking the $25,000 homestead exemption, would pay $1,251 in school taxes, down from $1,288 under the current rate.

Although the school board must vote on the tax rate, in reality the board has minimal say in setting the rate. A large portion of the rate — referred to as the state-required effort — is decided in Tallahassee.

Even with the drop in the proposed tax rate, the school district expects to collect more money. That’s because the total value of taxable property in Pasco increased to $22.4 billion, up about 4.8 percent.

Based on preliminary figures presented to the school board at a Tuesday workshop, the tax should generate about $121.5 million for the general fund, up from $120.3 million. It will also generate about $32.3 million for the capital budget.

The local tax isn’t the only source of revenue for the school district. Money also comes in from the state and federal governments.

While revenue is expected to go up, so is enrollment. The district is projecting a 2014-15 enrollment of 67,030, an increase of about 925 over last year.

The school board plans the first of two public hearings on the 2014-15 budget and tax rate at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the board meeting room at 7227 Land O’ Lakes Blvd.

The total tentative budget is $1.2 billion, with $546 million of that in the general fund, which is used for day-to-day operations of schools. Going into the budget process, the district was looking at a potential $7.4 million revenue shortfall, but after making cuts that included eliminating an early retirement fund, that shortfall has been addressed.

“We have a balanced budget, which I am happy to report,” said Olga Swinson, chief finance officer for the district.

That was good news to the school board.

“It is so nice at this point in the year to say we have a balanced budget,” board member Joanne Hurley said. “This is such a luxury after the last seven years.”

For several years, the school board faced even larger deficits and had to make massive spending cuts, in some cases eliminating jobs to balance the budget.

Even though budget numbers have improved, Swinson said the financial picture for education still hasn’t recovered to where it was as recently as 2007, when both per-student funding and property values were higher while school enrollment was lower.

“We have a long way to go to catch up to where we were back then,” she said.

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