After considering four options, members of the Gainesville school board approved a tentative tax rate of 6.85 mills — the same tax rate that funded the district last year — because of concerns about dipping too much into the school system’s fund balance.
Since the tax rate will result in a tax increase for some taxpayers because of higher reassessments, three public hearings are required before the board has a final vote next month.
The four options ranged from the the current 6.85 mills down to the full rollback rate of 6.453 mills. The rollback rate is computed as the tax rate that would produce the same total revenue as the previous year had there not been a reassessment. The millage rate equals $1 of taxes on every $1,000 of taxable value.
The board approved the rate by a 3-2 vote with Delores Diaz, Willie Mitchell and Chairman Brett Mercer voting in favor. Board members Sammy Smith and John Filson voted against keeping the rate at 6.85 mills.
Even with keeping the tax rate the same as the previous year, the school district is still expecting to spend more than $3.2 million from its fund balance to balance the $70.1 million budget the board approved in June. Kathy Pethel, director of finance for the school district, told board members that the school board started the 2018 fiscal year with $14.6 million in its fund balance — $400,000 less than anticipated earlier. Keeping the tax rate at 6.85 mills would leave a projected fund balance of nearly $11.4 million on June 30. The other options would have left smaller fund balances because each would have required dipping more deeply into the reserve fund.
Diaz made the motion to keep the millage rate at 6.85 mills, stressing her concerns about the fund balance.
“As much as we all would gain great pleasure in reducing the millage rate, our primary responsibility is for the children in our system, and I don’t want us to shortchange them,” she said in making her motion. “If our fund balance goes down as much as we expect that it will, it will have a tremendous impact on our system, I think. I’m just not willing to go there.”
Mitchell said he was also concerned about dipping too far into the fund balance, saying “it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
“We’re actually at the same rate that we were at last year, so I’m OK with that,” he said.
Mercer said the fund balance was also his reason for voting to keep the millage rate the same.
“I think we need to protect our fund balance if we can,” he said.