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Taking a closer look at the Bay District Schools tax referendum

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:31 PM CST
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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Locals are expressing concerns over the Bay District Schools tax referendum coming up on the municipal ballot.

According to Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen, it’ll cost the district around $225,000 to put the referendum on the ballot.

If approved, one additional mill would be added to the current millage rate for Bay County residents. This means property owners would be paying an extra $100 on every $100,000 of taxable property value.

School officials said the district already receives $107,822,422 from property taxes annually. The additional mill would bring in another $18,066,760.

Some think the language on the referendum is up for interpretation.

“The last line of the possible uses says ‘and fund other operations that preserve school programs.’ That’s pretty much what I read as a catch-all phrase... when you throw that ‘other and’ in there it pretty much means to me ‘we can decide to use for whatever we want,’” Bay County Business Owner Jon Ward said.

School officials said that’s not the case.

They said the last line, “and fund other operations that preserve school programs,” is about charter schools.

“Not all the charter schools have Pre-K so if they don’t have Pre-K they can’t spend that money on Pre-K, so what can they spend it on? Other programs that they deem as just as important,” Bay District Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt said.

Husfelt said he plans to stick to using the added funds for mental health services, Pre-K programs, school security, and employee salaries. He insists nothing more.

Other concerns involve the citizen oversight committee. Who exactly would review how the district spends the money?

“We would get both chambers to appoint somebody on there. We would get some of the civic organizations to put somebody on there. Each board member would appoint a person so it’d be a plethora of different people from the community,” Husfelt said.

School security is already a priority of the half-cent sales tax but Husfelt said that tax focuses on construction.

“The half-cent sales tax cannot be used to pay any salaries... but I need more money to pay those officers that we’re required to have in there,” Husfelt said.

Ward also notes Governor DeSantis passed a major bill last summer raising teacher salaries already.

Officials said the additional millage is used to pay all employees, where Governor DeSantis’ money went toward a fraction of teachers.

It’s ultimately up to voters whether this passes. Election day will be on April 20.

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