Huge School Tax Increase Debated — but Passed — by Board

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.”

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Bill Fold
Noble Member
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
7 months ago

Same S**t Different Day. There is and I don’t see that there ever will be any incentive to save a dime of taxpayer money. Give the government a budget of $100 and they will spend that $100. Give them a budget of $100 Million and they will find a way to spend every dime of that $100 Million. Just because they have the money whether they need it all or not, it’s going to get spent, and most of the time on needless crap. Why? Because the system is set up in such a way that if the money in the budget is not spent they will get less next fiscal year. I’ve worked for state governments and have seen this first hand.

Faith Ross
Active Member
Faith Ross(@faith-ross)
7 months ago
Reply to  Bill Fold

What this conversation is missing is the big word, GROWTH. Nassau County has uncontrolled growth. They need two schools immediately, and soon a third. As long as this continues, taxes will go up exponentially. Nothing new in the literature that residential development costs more in services than it produces in taxes. The last number that I remember reading from Nassau County was that for each tax dollar collected from residential development, it cost the county $1.75 in services. When a county adds 30,000 houses per development at a time and little to no commercial, who do you think is going to pay for the services? Fernandina Beach’s commercial tax revenue generated $35 million last year, $32 million of it went to the county and state. The island can no longer financially support the amount of housing being built in the county. And at the moment developers are trying to turn island commercial land into housing also. BALANCED growth is important. Until there is enough commercial or industry tax revenue and a significant rise in impact fees to cover the costs to support residential services, the taxes in Nassau County are going to skyrocket. Residential growth requires schools and services. It’s out of control.

Mark Tomes
Active Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
7 months ago

It is not just about taxes, per se. A responsible society will pay taxes for needed services. One must give teachers and staff a decent salary, respect, and dignity in order to keep the best ones. And we must pay for good programs to make our students informed citizens. While Republicans all over the state and in Tallahassee continue to chop away at our educational system, we must strive to bolster it on the local level as much as we can.

RichardCain
Noble Member
RichardCain(@richardcain)
7 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

One can always count on Mark Tomes to find an angle to attack Republicans on virtually any subject. But yes, I do think you can thank local Democrats for the one mill tax increase they championed. Whenever a Democrat calls for anything … get your wallet out … it’s going to cost you. Personally I never believed any of what the School Board said about how that money would be used. And I’m not aware that Republicans all over the state “chop a way: at our educational system … Gov. DeSantis has given schools much more $$ than ever.

srcocchi
srcocchi(@srcocchi)
7 months ago
Reply to  RichardCain

One can always count on Mr. Cain to find an angle to attack Democrats on virtually any subject and do so while being ill informed.

The voters of Nassau County voted for the mil increase. The voters who are 75% Republican.

The Democrats in this County did not take any position on the referendum.

There are no Democrats that hold any offices in the City, County or State for our District.

The GOP legislature has had a strong hold in the State and has effectively been decimating public education for the last 25 years. The continued efforts to push charter schools and diminish curriculum have been at the hands of Republicans. The lack of funding that has made our State 27th in education has forced 1/3 of the Counties in this state to require milage increases at the local level to fund their schools.

Then let’s add in the City and County leaders who push such radical growth that increases property values for those who can afford to buy and sell along with the Developers who fill their campaign coffers, the growth that impacts the assessed home values.

The higher home values diminishes the amount of dollars the State provides to the district and has to be made up locally. So all the growth puts a strain on the infrastructure and the staff required to educate. So when you say “DeSantis gave schools much more $$ than ever” maybe so but not in areas like ours with higher home values.

So I get it if you’re pissed off…but please direct your anger…and your voting decisions to those who are actually responsible for the problems you resent.

Respectfully,
Sheila Cocchi
Chair
Nassau County Democratic Executive Committee

Alan Hopkins
Noble Member
Alan Hopkins(@dawaves)
7 months ago

Well after seeing the actions of the school board I’m sure it’ll be a cold day in August in Nassau County before any further millage rate increases are approved by the taxpayers for this school district.

Given what has just transpired if the referendum were held today I am sure that it would fail by a large margin.

The recessed back door deal should be concerning for everybody and not just those upset with the tax increase.

Betsie Huben
Noble Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
7 months ago

Raise your hand if you thought the 90-minute, behind-closed doors session to reconfigure the budget was going to come out any differently than it did….

George Miller
George Miller(@george-miller)
7 months ago

Well written article. Bit you did not address this: why does the district need well over $20,000 per student annually and growing rapidly? the budget has increased much faster than student growth and published inflation figures.

Ben Martin
Trusted Member
Ben Martin(@ben-martin)
7 months ago

When you consider most of the time spent in school is used for indoctrination and baby sitting – it wouldn’t seem so hard for school boards to bring down costs. But it is like the more they spend, the more they need. When you consider half the adults in the United States can not add fractions with different denominators is it really wise to provide lavish amounts of money to the public education system????? We need the best teachers. Teachers need to be well paid. But I can bet you there is a whole lot of waste that can be eliminated.