By Mike Lednovich
It’s bad news for local property owners as the Nassau County School Board approved property tax rates that will mean the majority of homeowners will pay 38% to almost 50% more in taxes in 2024.
The millage rate was set at 3.2120 mills district school tax and .7480 mills for discretionary millage. The increased amount also includes a one mill increase that was approved by voters last November primarily for teacher pay raises. That means a homeowner for example in Parkway North on Amelia Island will have their local school tax go up from $745 this year to $1,111 in 2024.
Central to objections to the overall millage rate was that the 2022 referendum one mill will generate $17 million — $4 million over the $13 million that was originally touted when the referendum was being promoted last year.
People questioned why the school district was not lowering the discretionary millage rate given the increase of $4 million raised by the one mill referendum.
School Board Chair Cynthia Grooms said the district could not lower the discretionary rate without harming the district’s bond status and its ability to borrow money to build new schools.
“We have to maintain that (discretionary millage) because we’re going to need to borrow money to build new schools. We don’t have the money to build them,” she said. “We are not going to mess with that money. It has to stay.”
Taxpayers appeared to have won a small victory when board member Curtis Gaus suggested lowering the capital outlay millage from 1.5 mills to 1.25 mills. The reduction would lower revenues by $4 million.
“As property values increase I think we can kick this can down the road for a bit,” Gaus said.
That motion passed 5-0.
But the reduction meant that the school district budget, which had to be approved at the meeting, now had to be reconfigured to account for the loss of revenue.
After recessing for 90 minutes, the school board reconvened and promptly reversed itself going back to the 1.50 capital millage rate.
While the school district meeting room was jammed with concerned property owners, there were an equal number of school district employees who spoke in favor of the millage rate.
Jessica Sills, a school bus driver from Callahan, told the school board, “Every year we have to fight for money. It’s taken me nine years (for my salary) to go up $4.50. So this increase is helping people who only make $18,000 to $24,000 a year. You increase this property tax as much as you can so you can keep your bus drivers, and you get your maintenance workers and get your cafeteria people.”
Richard Lampkin of Fernandina Beach was critical of the facts that were used by the district in promoting the one mill bond issue.
“The teachers are not getting most of the money raised this year. They’re getting $5.7 million out of the $16.9 million that the one mill will generate,” Lampkin said. “This whole campaign was designed to tug at the heartstrings of every taxpayer to take care of the teachers. It’s very deceptive to sell the referendum on teachers and then give every (district) employee the same amount of money.”
Doug Miller was another unhappy property owner. “There are six taxing districts on the tax bill. Five of them had no tax increase for next year. Only one had an increase, the school district,” said Miller of Fernandina Beach. “Seventy-eight percent of my tax increases are because of you guys.”
Shelby Goodwin, a Nassau County teacher of the year, said she was speaking as a taxpayer not an educator. “No one wants to see a tax increase when they get their tax bill,” she said. “The school district is doing exactly what it said it would do. We cannot diminish our education system. The school district is the number two district in the state, and our teachers deserve to be paid accordingly.”