Monroe County Schools began the 2023-2024 school year on August 1 and by most accounts, it has been another great start! Thank you to our staff, students, and parents for making this happen. The Monroe County School district benefits greatly from such a supportive community.
At its August 8, 2023 meeting, the Monroe County Board of Education proposed a tax increase for 2023. This is the first increase for the schools in seven years. Since levying a rate of 15.8 mills in 2016, the board has reduced its millage rate each year since, accumulating a reduction in millage of nearly 8-tenths of a mill. The proposed millage rate of 16.212 (an increase of 1.18 mills) comes as property values associated with utilities at Plant Scherer are dropping, despite many residential property values in Monroe County increasing. Therefore, while not ideal, a tax increase is necessary to meet the education budget demands.
Why is this occurring? For many years, revenue collected from utility property values at Plant Scherer has kept residential property taxes low in Monroe County. Tax revenue collected from utility properties makes up over 38% of the education budget, which is slightly higher than the tax revenue collected from residential properties. That’s right, utilities pay more than residential taxpayers. Considering there are far fewer utilities paying taxes than individual property owners, any sudden change in utility values means considerable volatility in tax revenue.
Speaking of sudden change, as many of you know, two primary owners of Plant Scherer have left or will leave Plant Scherer. One of those primary owners was Florida Power and Light. In 2022, Florida Power and Light filed closure plans with the Department of Revenue. They owned a majority of Plant Scherer’s unit 4 and 25% of unit 3. This prompted a $223 million reduction in assessed (40%) property tax value which meant a revenue loss for Monroe County Schools of $3.3 million. Unfortunately, Monroe County Schools was made aware of this change four months into last year’s budget.
As if that was not enough financial misfortune, Monroe County’s property digest for utilities is expected to see another drop in values later this year when the Department of Revenue sets assessment values for the public utilities. Jacksonville Electric Authority – which owns just under 24% of Scherer’s unit 4 – sought to reduce its tax values in 2022, a request that was denied by the DOR and rolled to the 2023 digest. We anticipate this request being approved in 2024. With that change, an additional loss of $120 million in utility assessment values (40%) is expected, resulting in another $1.8 million revenue loss for Monroe County Schools.
That total comes to a $5.1 million loss, every budget year, from merely two entities pulling out of Plant Scherer. Over a five year period, Monroe County Schools will lose $25.5 million dollars that has otherwise been in the budget.
What does $5.1 million buy in our school district? Considering Monroe County Schools’ budget is about 90% salaries, cutting $5.1 million every year from the budget could eliminate one of the following:
47.6 teachers, or
31 administrators, or
the entire transportation department (70 bus drivers, 15 bus assistants, 4 shop positions and 3 office positions for a total of 92 jobs), or
all insurance, electricity, classroom supplies, fleet maintenance, fuel, and most importantly, school resource officers that keep our schools safe every day.
But wait! There is some good news. A tax increase this year is not scheduled to have the same effect as in years past. While some taxpayers may see an increase in tax bills in 2023 due to the millage and reassessed values of property, approximately 7,600 homeowners in Monroe County will see a tax bill decrease thanks to Governor Brian Kemp’s Property Tax Relief Grant (House Bill 18 signed on March 13, 2023). Those taxpayers who have a homestead exemption on their primary residence will realize a credit of $18,000 against their assessed tax value, meaning the assessed value of your house can be $18,000 less by way of the Property Tax Relief Grant.
Let’s compute the math on that. For a house valued at $200,000 (the average homestead value in Monroe County for the 2022 tax year), a full tax bill at last year’s school millage rate of 15.024 would be $1,197.36. After applying the tax credit of $18,000, the same tax bill at the proposed higher millage rate of 16.212 would be $1,005.14. Yes, you read that correctly. The tax bill at the tentative millage rate of 16.212 is actually $192.22 less in overall taxes.
No one likes a tax increase. If our BOE can levy lower taxes we certainly will as evidenced by the past seven years of rollback millage rates. However, this may be a time in which an education millage rate increase is necessary for our students to continue to excel in Monroe County Schools. Especially, since the Governor has graciously provided tax relief on qualified homestead exemption residences.
Our faculty, staff, and students have provided a positive return on investment to the taxpayers in Monroe County. Monroe County Schools continues to be the top school district in Middle Georgia and a top 10 district in the state. We will again strive to maintain this high standard of academic excellence as we compete for the best and brightest teachers as well as prospective students and their families. Full funding of our budget is vital for our system to continue to provide only the best instructional support for the 4,600 students in the community.
Thank you for your continued support of Monroe County Schools! We appreciate being the educational choice for Monroe County students and families. I hope everyone has a fantastic 2023-2024 school year!
Dr. Jim Finch