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Local political party opposes Bay District Schools’ proposed millage rate increase

Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 9:30 PM CST
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - At Monday night’s Bay County Republican Executive Committee meeting, members said “no” to the millage rate increase proposed by Bay District Schools.

“Republicans generally don’t raise taxes,” Bay County Republican Party Chairman Debbie Wood said.

The one mil increase would tax Bay County property owners $100 for every $100,000 of assessed property value. The money would go to teachers and other district employees’ salaries, school safety, and mental health services.

“They’re the lowest-paying wage, a teacher’s salary, in Bay County,” Bay County Democratic Party Chairman Dr. Rickey Rivers said.

Rivers said they support raising the millage rate.

“I believe it will bring an increase to education. I think it will open opportunities and grow the community,” said Rivers.

Wood said their main issue is they don’t believe the money the district already has is being spent where it should be.

“I think it needs to be brought up and discussed to show why they need the money in a year that we’ve had less kids in school,” said Wood.

Superintendent Bill Husfelt declined to go on camera, but released a statement:

“We are aware that various groups and individuals are trying to make the April referendum a political issue but Bay District Schools will not engage in commentary of that nature. Unfortunately, we’re also aware of a plethora of misinformation being spread by those who do not understand the intricacies of school finance. We remain resolute and firm in our stance that the voters need to research the actual facts and determine for themselves whether or not the proposed one mill levy is good for our students and our employees.

If asking for an additional half-cent sales tax was an option, that’s definitely the route we would pursue but it’s not a choice we have. We will continue to share the facts about the school budgeting process, the funds already given and distributed to new teachers by the governor’s mandate and the overwhelming need in our community for more mental health professionals for our students. We believe the needs are clear and the proposed one mill levy is the only avenue available to increase funding to better serve our students and our community.

We have offered to meet with several community groups to explain in detail how school finance works but, as yet, no one has taken us up on the offer. We’d be happy also to meet with anyone’s certified public accountant to provide an in-depth look, line item by line item, at our budget (which is also available online). Our budgeting process is completely transparent BUT the nature of school financing and the statutes that govern it do make the process quite challenging for others to understand.”

Both chairmen responded to the statement and said they both respect Husfelt and just want what’s best for the community.

“I do not believe this is a Republican, Democrat issue whatsoever. It’s about how to spend your own money wisely,” said Wood.

“I believe in public school systems, we have Republican kids and Democratic kids and parents going to school. It’s not an issue, it’s about education,” said Dr. Rivers.

The referendum goes before voters on April 20th. Rivers said 20 out of Florida’s 67 counties already have a millage increase in place for their schools.

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