Superintendent pushes for voter support of levies

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When it comes to the two taxing measures the Franklin County School District has on the ballot in November, Superintendent Steve Lanier isn’t hugging the shoreline.

Rather, Lanier, a retired Navy commander, is taking the fleet deep into uncharted depths as he presses the case to voters as to why they should vote in favor of both of the two similar-sounding ballot measures.

Last month at Holy Family, in the first of a series of town hall meetings that include Lanark Village’s Chillas Hall on Oct. 3 and the Carrabelle Senior Center Oct. 6, Lanier said renewing the half-mill property tax levy - and passing for the first time a half-cent sales tax levy - would work in concert with each other over the long run, to brighten the future of Franklin County school kids.

“I know it sounds like I’m campaigning but it’s really the future of our kids here,” said Lanier. “If we don’t try, I'm not doing my job.

“People are moving in droves to Franklin County. We need to fly a flag and be proud of what we have. This will affect generations for years to come.”

Flanked by school board members, and administrators from both the Franklin County School and ABC School, Lanier outlined a wish list of $40 million in capital improvement that could be funded over the next two decades, the length of time for which voters would be enacting the half-cent sales tax. 

If passed, the sales tax would mean Franklin would join 25 other districts in Florida that now levy the tax, which is limited to capital purposes, such as construction and technology. The tax is estimated to bring into the district in the neighborhood of $1.3 million annually. The ABC School would receive a proportionate portion of these funds.

Topping the list is a new bus barn to replace the aging one in Carrabelle, an expenditure that carries a price tag of between $4 million and $6 million, as well as adding to the bus fleet over 20 years, at a similar cost.

“We haven’t purchased a bus since 2015,” he said. “I’d like to order three new buses a year and get caught up.”

Improvements to school security, replacements to air conditioning systems, repairs to roofs (particularly at the ABC School which has a $350,000 roof repair looming), investments in enhanced information technology, resurfacing the track and replacing the scoreboards, perhaps even constructing an auditorium for use by the entire county - these items and more could be done with the funds, Lanier said.

“These tax dollars won’t sit in a bank and build up interest, they’ll be spent,” he said.

The superintendent said that with these sales tax monies lessening the burden on the capital outlay property tax millage, now at 1.0 mills, he foresees perhaps in the future going to voters and asking them to cut those capital outlay mills in half, and shifting the difference to operating revenues, which could be spent on teacher salaries and other labor costs.

“We have the third lowest starting teacher salaries in the state,” Lanier said. “How do we get teachers here?”

He said improvements here at home will also help stanch the perennial flow of students to neighboring districts. “These are things that are going to get us down the road. We’ve got to keep people here,” Lanier said. 

Franklin County voters also will face renewal of the half-mill operating levy on the Nov. 8 ballot. First approved in 2008, and renewed every four years after that, this half-mill property tax, which was levied at the same time the capital outlay millage was cut by a half-mill, is earmarked for salaries and benefits and other operating costs. 

This half-mill was last renewed in June 2020, and the district had planned to place this four-year measure again on the ballot in 2024. But the Florida legislature changed the law, effective Oct. 2022, that requires that all such levies must be placed on the general election ballot. To make sure there are no interruptions in the dollars, which would be the case if it waited until Nov. 2024, the school board placed it on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Franklin County Schools, half-cent sales tax

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