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Gainesville denies schools' request for tax collection waiver

POSTED: June 23, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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Gainesville City Council voted Thursday morning to deny the Gainesville school board’s request to not charge the system the city’s 1 percent fee for property tax collection and sending out tax notices.

The City Board of Education voted Monday to request the waiver in an effort to save about $226,000, as it struggles to balance its fiscal 2008-09 budget and chip away at a $6.6 million deficit.

During a work session Thursday morning, City Manager Bryan Shuler said the city is approving a tight budget of its own, and waiving the fee would mean either raising taxes or further cutting expenses — neither of which he was willing to recommend.

"While we’re sympathetic to the school system (and) we want to be supportive of them, I don’t personally believe this is the right approach for us to take," Shuler said. "I think we provide a service at a very fair price to the school system."

Council members didn’t take a formal vote to deny the request, but instead just agreed with Shuler’s recommendation. Shuler said he would send a letter to the school board about the council’s decision.

"Obviously, we have revenues we count on in order to balance our budget and that is one of the revenues we do count on," said Councilman George Wangemann. "It’s a service we’re providing, so therefore we should get something for it. 

"... The bottom line is the school board really needs to get a handle on its total budget, which means revenues and expenditures, before they start asking for money."

School board member Sammy Smith, who proposed the measure Monday, declined to comment until he spoke to city officials about the matter.

The $226,000 would have been a fraction of the estimated $6.6 deficit the school system needs to make up as the board moves toward passing a 2008-09 budget, which takes effect July 1. Tentative budget approval is set for Monday night.

To begin pulling the system out of its financial abyss, Superintendent Steven Ballowe has recommended raising the tax rate to 8.34 mills from 6.96, a 20 percent increase, as well $4.5 million in cuts.

School board members have given chief financial officer Janet Allison a list of their own ideas for cuts and raising extra revenue. She is working with staff members to see what kind of financial impact they would have on next year’s budget.

Allison has said that based on projections, it would take the district at least two years to get back into the black.



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