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Hillsborough schools will still receive county tax funds, but much less than before

people sit around the county dais in Hillsborough
Courtesy of
Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners
Hillsborough County Commissioners discussed funding distributions for the Community Investment Tax, which will go before voters for renewal this fall.

Schools will still be part of the Community Investment Tax, but their share will be cut significantly, potentially impacting future capital projects. Voters must renew the CIT in November.

Hillsborough schools will still get revenue from a county-wide sales tax after all, but their proposed share has been cut significantly.

During Wednesday's Board of County Commissioner's meeting, some debated cutting the school district out of the Community Investment Tax entirely.

But the board reached a compromise to give schools 5% of the funds rather than the 25% they've received in the last 28 years.

The vote was 5 to 2. Board chair Ken Hagan and District 3 representative Gwen Meyers voted no.

Commissioners also decided that the new iteration of the CIT will last 15 years rather than 30.

The half-cent sales tax levied in 1996 has generated a total of $2.3 billion. About 20% are funded from tourists and visitors.

The school district received about $655 million of the proceeds, which went towards various capital improvement projects including school construction and solving long-standing maintenance issues.

At the March 7 board meeting, Superintendent Van Ayres laid out a $244 million need to build new schools and expand existing ones to accommodate population growth over the next decade.

With that funding slashed for the next 15 years, however, the district is likely to receive a little over $187 million.

Meyers proposed raising the district's share to about 6.5% to cover the $57 million shortfall, but was denied.

CIT decision mired in politics

Some commissioners said they were worried that voters would not support the half-cent sales tax if schools were involved because of another tax referendum the district is proposing.

"I'm concerned that the school district is going to be perceived as double dipping with both referendums, although I know the needs are different," said Hagan. "How do we balance addressing our needs, with what is politically palatable and can get voter approval?"

CIT funds infrastructure projects, while a separate property tax increase would go towards teacher and staff salaries.

School board member Lynn Gray said during Tuesday night's district meeting that cutting schools out entirely would be "devastating."

Commissioner Pat Kemp pointed out that Hillsborough County's "blistering growth," coupled with comparably low property values, has hamstrung the school district's capital budget.

"There is no doubt that Hillsborough County's infrastructure needs in every way have been dramatically, desperately underfunded," said Kemp.

The county commission will hear public comments on the tax plan at their next meeting on April 17. Members will also vote to enact the ordinance.

However, a majority of voters will have to approve the tax ordinance in November for it to be renewed for the next 15 years.

An estimated $167 million in new revenue will be generated in 2027.

In 2028, total revenue is estimated at $206 million.

Other entities that receive CIT funds include the City of Temple Terrace, Plant City, Tampa, the Tampa Sports Authority and the Board of County Commissioners.

Other county commission news

Hillsborough County is also one step closer to greenlighting a carbon capture pilot program.

Commissioners were presented with details of the project during the meeting.

The company LowCarbon wants a chance to showcase technology that traps carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere.

County staff said the company will be footing the bill for the two-month pilot.

But community members and environmentalists are worried about the cost of a full-scale facility, which would amount to more than $24 million, if the county decides to move forward.

County public works staff said they would cover a substantial portion of that cost with grant funding.

Brooke Ward with the group Food & Water Watch told commissioners that carbon capture is not a viable solution to climate change.

"Carbon capture is an industry scam, straight up," said Ward, "It's a sideshow and a distraction from real clean energy solutions."

The board will vote whether to approve the project at the April 17 meeting.

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.
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