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Oil spill woes could trickle down to affect school budgets

By Staff | Jun 26, 2010

Lee County School District officials are worried that a loss of statewide tourism revenue, due to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, could mean less money for next year’s budget.
Each year the Florida Education Finance Program doles out a specific amount of funding per student to Lee County and the rest of the state’s 66 school districts. This program collects dollars from a number of state sources — taxes from sales, fuel usage, communications and corporations –and through a formula decides what each districts needs.
Of course, with less state revenue comes less funding to be given out to school districts.
According to a presentation by Budget Director Ami Desamours this week, the most recent tax roll estimate is $4 billion less than what the Florida Legislature used in its budget. Locally, that decrease is approximately $4 million in the Lee County School District’s operating fund and $8 million in the capital fund.
The Florida Legislature built its budget on a tax roll of $62 billion, but officials expect it to be closer to $58 billion.
Superintendent James Browder said that if the tax roll is lower than expected, the state will eventually prorate that amount to the district.
“If the money is coming in less, there will be a proration coming in to balance that out,” he said.
But, in the mean time the school district will have to make cuts to the budget before any prorations are issued.
Desamours said the state’s budget is on “shaky ground” if sales tax projections fall short.
“Especially with things going on with the oil spill disaster, if it continues to affect our sales tax revenues and worsens as time goes along, and the disaster gets worse, we could possibly be looking at additional prorations,” she said.
The school district’s 2011 budget is valued at $1.402 billion, a decrease from last year’s final budget which was $1.428 billion. The district receives the certified tax roll on July 1. On July 29 the school board is scheduled to approve the tentative budget and millage rates, and the final budget will be voted on during a Sept. 14 meeting.
Even though large slicks and tar balls have reached the Florida panhandle cities of Pensacola and Panama City, no traces of wandering oil has been identified near Southwest Florida. But, for the tourism industry, the perception of a crisis is enough to keep people away.
Many tourists have cancelled reservations across the state. Some hotels and resorts have formulated refund policies in the event that an oil slick hits the beaches in their communities. ‘Tween Waters Inn on Captiva Island, for example, is providing a per-diem refund with taxes if the beaches are closed because of the spill.
The intent of their “Clean ‘Tween Policy” is to make sure visitors book their vacations on Captive Island without having to worry they’ll lose money due to a beach closure.
“Our beaches are currently clean and oil free and projections are that they will stay that way,” said Jeff Shuff, ‘Tween Waters Inn manager. “However, our top priorities are the happiness and comfort of our guests, which is why we have created the ‘Clean ‘Tween Policy.'”
Eighty million people come to Florida each year and the state collects billions in taxable sales revenue from tourism.
Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency, recently launched its “Need to Know” advertising campaign on June 16 to make sure tourists make well-informed decisions on where they take their vacations.