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Half Penny Sales Tax Will Help School Infrastructure


November 4th Space Coast voters will decide whether to raise the county sales tax from 6 to 6.5 percent, a move that would raise an estimated $32 million annually for Brevard Public Schools.

School district leaders are asking voters for a new revenue stream in order to offset declines seen in their capital revenue, which pays for building infrastructure, school buses and technology needs. State funding shortfalls and revenue declines from local property taxes all contributed to the recent 65 percent decline.

Ballot language limits the sales tax to 10 years and will end earlier if the county’s tax assessments bounce back to the 2008-09 peak. If approved, it will start Jan. 1. see more

Without the sales tax, school district leaders say they’ll need to divert money from school programs, forcing cuts.

“It boils down to what the community feels like they are willing to pay for,” School Board Chair Barbara Murray said. “For our children to be competitive in the future, attending universities and entering the workforce, we need to maintain those programs.”

The sales tax is the district’s solution to declining tax revenue in recent years. Tax assessments in 2008-09 were $41 billion. For the upcoming school year, the certified tax roll is $27.5 billion.

Capital revenue fell from $117 million in 2007-08 to about $43 million this year, and a substantial chunk goes to paying down debt that helped fund a previous seven-year facility plan. That plan renovated some schools and built new ones, such as Heritage High in Palm Bay.

Officials have discussed refinancing the roughly $512 million in debt, but decided against it — calling it irresponsible to push it to future generations. With interest, paying off the debt will cost $836 million through 2036.

The district has taken cost-savings steps, from turning air conditioning off in the summer to closing an elementary school in Titusville. In addition, a new policy allows advertising in schools.

Each year, the half-cent sales tax would pay $4 million for replacing school buses, $8 million for technology upgrades and replacements, and $20 million toward facility repairs.

The amount spent will vary year-to-year, as about $15 million will be spent during the first three years on technology upgrades needed to fulfill state requirements.

District leaders say they must maintain their infrastructure and investment.

For example, Brevard typically replaced 34 of its 409 school buses each year, a cycle that means every bus is replaced every 12 years. But during the past four years, the district has only purchased 30 buses, a 55-year replacement cycle.

“We can’t responsibly do that,” Superintendent Brian Binggeli has said.

Without it, school district officials have warned that operating funds — which pays for teacher salaries and school programs — will be needed to pay for facility expenses. When a chiller breaks, they say, it has to be fixed, and the money has to come from somewhere.

School Board member Amy Kneessy said she supports the tax itself, despite being the lone vote against sending the proposed tax to voters this year. She had wanted to wait until the 2014 ballot.

“It’s easy for people to vote no on a tax because nobody likes to pay taxes,” she said. But she added that there are economic benefits to maintaining the quality of schools. “Do we maintain the types of programs that bring businesses to Brevard County, or are we going to end those programs?”

Terri Wright has held the position of General Manager at WFIT since 1998.