SCHOOL BOARD SETS LOWEST TAX RATE SINCE 2008

Ten percent of 300 is greater than 20% of 100.

The same middle-school math lesson applies to property taxes in the Florida Keys, where soaring property values yield higher tax revenues even as government agencies lower their tax percentage rates.

The increase in total assessed property value in Monroe County jumped by 32.5% this year, according to the school district’s budget office. That increase allows taxing entities to levy a lower tax rate while still raising more revenue than last year.

The county school board is proposing its lowest tax rate since 2008, and most property owners — with and without homestead exemptions — will pay less in school taxes for the coming year, school district finance director Bev Anders said at Tuesday’s school board meeting in Marathon.

The school board’s proposed tax rate would lower the school tax bill on homesteaded properties by about $108. Non-homesteaded properties will see a school tax decrease of about $12, Anders said. 

Such entities, including cities, counties, school boards and others, still must advertise a tax increase to property owners, because they’re collecting more tax revenue than they did the prior year, Anders said. 

The budget and taxation outlined at Tuesday’s school board meeting reflects a $5.5 million budget reduction that some board members requested last month.

Chairman John Dick reminded his colleagues that the school district needs voters to renew a tax shift that lowers the capital, or construction, tax, and raises by an equal amount the operating tax that can be used for teacher salaries. If voters do not renew the tax shift referendum on Aug. 23, the school district will lose $23 million and 220 employee positions, Anders said, calling the implications “devastating.”

Dick, along with board members Bobby Highsmith and Andy Griffiths last month said they wanted to reduce the proposed budget in order to show Monroe County voters a good faith effort to ensure the passage of the tax shift referendum.

Superintendent Theresa Axford on Tuesday commended the board for their fiscal responsibility.

“Your millage (tax) rate  will be the lowest since 2008, and we hope voters will acknowledge what you’ve done when they go to the polls on Aug. 23 and renew our flexible funding referendum, which results in not net tax increase, but provides us greater flexibility in paying teacher salaries.”

The school board held a budget hearing during Tuesday’s meeting. An additional public hearing takes place Aug. 30 in Key West. The final budget and tax approval occurs Sept. 6 in the Upper Keys.

What’s the deal with homestead exemptions?

Primary residences in Florida are protected from ballooning property values — and corresponding tax increases — by the Save Our Home amendment. Under Save Our Homes, a primary residence can only increase in value by 3% each year. Such homes also qualify for a $25,000 homestead exemption, which lowers the assessed value of the home by $25,000. 

For the school district’s proposed budget and tax plans, a $500,000 primary residence would have increased in value by 3% to $515,000. The $25,000 exemption would lower its taxable value to $490,000.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.