Osceola School Board votes to reduce property taxes

The Osceola County School Board on Tuesday adopted the district’s $1.2 billion budget and voted to reduce school property taxes next year.

It was the first of two public hearings required to pass the budget and millage rate. The second vote will be Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 5:30 p.m. at the district’s administrative center, 817 Bill Beck Blvd. in Kissimmee. The board voted unanimously; School Board Member Terry Castillo was absent from the hearing.

The proposed school millage rate for the 2019-20 fiscal year is 6.240, down from 6.411 mils the previous year. One mil equals $1 per $1,000 of taxable property value.

For example, if the proposed millage rate is passed, the owner of a $100,000 home would owe $641 in school property taxes next year. That rate would generate a total of $185.2 million, about $17 million more than the millage rate brought in this year. The other $817 million comes from a combination of state funding, federal grants and revenue from impact fees and sales tax.

The bulk of the school millage rate is established annually by the Florida Legislature through what’s called the Required Local Effort. Any school district that wants funding from the Florida Department of Education, must levy the Required Local Effort determined by lawmakers.

“This is the top millage the school board can levy without a voter referendum,” said Chief Finance Officer Sarah Graber.

State law also dictates how the proposed budget and millage rate are advertised to the public.

The Truth in Millage Act, often abbreviated TRIM, requires taxing authorities – such as the School Board and the County Commission – to inform taxpayers which government entity is responsible for the taxes levied and how much they owe. The property appraiser sends this information, known as the TRIM notice, to the property owner.

Although the proposed millage rate is down, TRIM required the school district to advertise a hike in taxes. That’s because the board is permitted to adopt a rollback rate, which would generate the same amount of money as the previous year.  

The logic didn’t sit well with School Board Member Ricky Booth.

“I find it extremely disconcerting that the state would force a school district to put an advertisement in the paper saying you’re raising taxes when in fact you’re lowering the millage rate on homes,” Booth said.  

With new residential and commercial properties being developed every year, the district is “collecting more taxes, but the millage rate is actually going down,” he said. It makes no sense.”

Booth lambasted the state’s methods.

“If you adopt a different number than what the state tells you, you have to adopt, then you can’t participate in the FEFP (Florida Education Finance Program) program,” he said.

“Can’t do that because that’s all the money the school district gets,” Booth said.

“There are some good folks doing good things in Tallahassee, that’s for sure. But this is ridiculous,” said Booth, adding that he hoped local state legislators could bring reform to the system.

Osceola County’s school property tax rate has been on a downward trend for four years, even as homes increase in value.

For example, according to the district, a home valued at $205,000 in 2015 was charged $1,306 in school taxes that year. That same home, valued at $219,265 in 2019, would be charged $1,212 in school taxes if the proposed millage is adopted.

During the public hearing, the School Board also approved how funds from the government-run Florida Lottery are spent. Osceola gets about $1.2 million each year from the lottery, Booth said.

School Board Chairman Clarence Thacker asked staff to present more detailed information about lottery funds at a future board meeting.

There were no public comments at Tuesday night’s hearing.