Dozier: Tax issue will not impact school district
Lee County School Board member Jeanne Dozier responded Friday to local media reports about her not paying a portion of her 2008 property taxes.
Earlier this week the public was informed that Dozier and her husband Joseph were delinquent on paying $10,681.73 in taxes on a 5,553 square-foot house in Fort Myers. Dozier said that she was out-of-town this week and was unavailable to comment.
“Right now we are in an economic situation, nationally and internationally, and my family doesn’t have a bubble around us that protects us from economic situations,” said Dozier on Friday afternoon.
She released a statement to local media outlets explaining the economic circumstances behind her not being able to pay her taxes. In it she pointed out that 58,000 people in Lee County received the same tax certificates that she received on May 21.
Because of the economic climate in Southwest Florida, Dozier said her family was unable to pay the taxes on one of her three properties — overall she owns two in Fort Myers and one in North Carolina.
“This year, due to economic forces affecting my husband’s business, things transpired that resulted in my family having to make some difficult decisions,” wrote Dozier.
Businesses in Lee County owed her husband thousands of dollars, she explained, and many of them shifted from a payment schedule of 15-days to 60-or-90-days. This decreased the family’s cash flow, she said.
Although one option was to lay-off employees, the Doziers decided not to pay the taxes and use the funds for other needs.
Wachovia Bank later purchased a tax certificate on the Doziers’ home. The family has to pay back the delinquent taxes with an 8.25 percent interest rate or, after three years, the home could be auctioned at a certificate sale.
“It’s important for the community to know that each taxing agency — including the school district — will be paid all the revenue due. All of the taxes in question have been paid and my family is now repaying that amount, with interest,” wrote Dozier.
Other members of the school board came to Dozier’s defense this week, adamantly insisting that this is a personal issue that should have never been released in the media and that it doesn’t reflect on her ability to serve as a board member.
“It’s unfortunate that a personal financial situation has become fodder for the media,” wrote Dozier. “But being an elected official I understand that sometimes personal issues become public.”
Vice-chairman Steve Teuber said on Wednesday that he didn’t believe the issue was news.
John Traube, a Cape Coral resident who regularly attends school board meetings, said the public has a right to know what is happening with an elected official.
“Public officials aren’t royalty,” he said. “Something is terribly wrong if we can’t criticize a public official for what they’re doing when they want to raise taxes.”
This summer the board will decide whether to raise taxes. Board Member Robert Chilmonik said on Wednesday that he doesn’t support a tax increase, but convincing voters to agree to a tax increase will now be more difficult.
According to Traube, Dozier’s tax issues demonstrate that people can’t financially handle a tax increase.
“It certainly should make them understand what is happening to people. The general public is suffering in this recession,” said Traube.
Traube is one among some Lee County residents supporting a flexibility referendum that would allow the school district to transfer funds from its capital account into operating without raising taxes, although some members of the board said it would deplete the capital account of funds needed to pay reoccurring debt.
Bonita Springs resident Sue Jacobse also attends every school board meeting and often addresses the board regarding major issues. She was appalled with the report on Dozier.
“This woman has done nothing but good for education in this county,” said Jacobse. “She is a good lady and she has done a lot of good things for people.”
Jacobse believes that the reports about Dozier were inappropriate, especially in a time when the district needs to work together to deal with a $40 million estimated shortfall.
“People have to make choices in hard times due to their cash flow,” said Jacobse. “The important thing is the kids.”
Raising local taxes is only one option on the school board’s table. Superintendent James Browder will present a Plan B at a board workshop on June 19. This proposal reportedly offers a way to balance the budget without cutting programs or considering an increase in taxes.