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School board OKs $1.428B budget for district

By Staff | Sep 9, 2009

The Lee County School Board approved the 2009-10 budget with a 3-1 vote Tuesday night.
An updated tentative budget worth $1.428 billion was approved, an increase of $8 million from the last budget presentation because the district finished carrying over funds from last year’s accounts.
The board also set a millage rate of 7.508 that generates $488 million for the Lee County School District.
Lee County’s tax roll decreased by 22 percent this year because of a drop in property values, and local taxes were increased to compensate.
Funds from the Florida Education Finance Program will amount to $7,200 per student, according to budget director Ami Desamours. The base student allocation decreased by $256 from last year.
Vice Chairman Steve Teuber said the district worked hard to recover 0.25 in discretionary millage seized by the Florida Legislature in its budgetary process. He added that the district underwent some cost cutting before adopting the final budget.
“We made some huge cost cuts across the district,” Teuber said.
Although some in the community did not support the millage rate increase, the board did pass a balanced budget Tuesday.
“It is unfortunate we are not getting more dollars from the state,” said School Board Member Jeanne Dozier. “We are charged by the constitution to have a balanced budget.”
School Board Member Robert Chilmonik voted against the budget and the discretionary millage rate.
“I won’t be supporting this motion, we need to look at reducing our overall overhead, to look at transportation costs, double dipping and golden parachutes,” he said.
The district has made more than $90 million worth of cuts since the beginning of 2008, said School Board Member Elinor Scricca. She added that “increased taxes were really imposed by another source.”
Tax dollars collected in Lee County are placed in the FEFP and distributed to districts statewide. Scricca said the district loses some of its local tax money in the process.
“If you look at your TRIM notice, you will notice there are two school taxes,” she said. “Lee County is a donor county, meaning we send in more tax dollars than we have returned, and the balance goes to the less wealthy counties.”
Lee County residents have already received their TRIM notices from the Property Appraiser’s Office. Many homeowners have seen an increase in the amount of taxes they have to pay.
Cape Coral resident John Traube said people have been up in arms about enlarged TRIM notices.
“You are raising our millage, it affects every voter in Lee County and Cape Coral,” he said. “That is because these are tough times, people are in pain. It is time this school board isn’t so quick to raise taxes.”