Liars can't figure
Politicians have been complaining about how the new property tax proposal will effect local revenues. Is it really true? Take this for instance from today's Palm Beach Post.
The Palm Beach County School Board will get its first look today at a proposed $3.6 billion budget - its biggest ever.Property tax cuts are happening but the budget is bigger than ever. Then what's the big deal?
The budget includes about $1.5 billion for operating costs such as staff salaries, programs and books, $1.6 billion to build and renovate school buildings, $176 million in grant money and $40 million for contingency.
The money for schools comes from property taxes and the state's sales tax. Over the past 10 years, the district's share of education costs has risen as the state's has declined. Today, 72 percent of the budget relies on the county's property tax revenues compared to 60 percent in 1998.
In Palm Beach County, rising property values have provided the district a cushion in its budget, allowing it to avoid massive cuts. And as property values have increased, tax rates have declined. Even this year, as property value increases have slowed, the rates dropped from $7.87 per $1,000 of home value to $7.36, the lowest rate in 20 years.
Though property taxes have risen from last year, it's not as much as officials anticipated.Why are construction projects being put on hold? Palm Beach County taxpayers passed a half cent sales tax to finance just that in 2004?
On the construction side, the decline in property tax revenue has put nearly every project on the district's five-year plan in doubt. Last month, officials learned they had received $281 million less than expected from property taxes and said they will reexamine the construction and renovation of new schools.
Palm Beach CountyWhy isn't that paying for school construction? Is the Palm Beach County School board going to do it again? In the 1980's a bond issue was passed to pay for school construction. Instead the money went towards teacher salaries and other expenses. It was a big scandal in the early 90's, and why it took years for the School board to make another special effort to raise money for school construction.
Palm Beach County voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum to raise the sales tax by a half-cent on the dollar for the next six years to build new public schools and replace older buildings. Thanks to the extra sales tax -- it adds a quarter to a $50 purchase of taxable items -- officials say the system will avoid a "catastrophic" scenario of overcrowded schools, deteriorating campuses and even classes held year-round. The half-percent tax, starting Jan. 1 and ending Dec. 31, 2010, is projected ultimately to raise an estimated $560 million toward a $1 billion construction program. The plan includes opening or starting work on 14 new schools and 26 replacement schools and classroom additions at 27 schools -- all during the next five years. Administrators say they had no choice but to pursue the referendum because the district is projected to fall far short of obtaining the needed money from loans, property taxes and state sources. The construction plan is so large due to the addition of about 5,000 new students each year, a schedule of modernizing campuses that are more than 35 years old, an anti-overcrowding policy and high construction costs.
The increase in this year's funding is less than it has been in the past. For example, last year the total grew by 8.4 percent, but by only 5.4 percent this year.Taxes are still up, student enrollment is down, the budget has gone up and the sales tax is still in effect. So what's the big fuss about the property tax initiative? To me it looks like local school officials are being crybabies. What do you think?
When officials subtract money for state requirements, such as class size and teacher performance bonuses, the increase amounts to 2 percent, half as much as last year.
Part of the decrease is the result of declining student enrollment - 3,000 students aren't expected to return for the second straight year. The loss prompted the state to cut about $3 million from the district's budget this year.
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