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The district faces a $400,000 budget cut next fiscal year. More cuts could be on the way.
The Flagler County School Board’s latest meeting ended on a low note Tuesday, July 17, when the board was notified that its budget next fiscal year would be $3.8 million less than expected. Officials are now looking at a much smaller gap, however, following the addition of funds received from the state the day after, to account for the shortfall.
According to Finance Director Tom Tant, the cut now is closer to $400,000. But the good news comes with a catch.
Whereas the first budget notification was due to millage — the School Board’s millage rate, which is set by the state, came in lower than expected — the new notification is based on statewide sales tax revenue estimations. And as Tant explains, there’s a chance that actual revenues will be much lower come December, which could put Flagler schools back in the crosshairs.
“It’s great news that they made up the difference, and it’s great news that our property owners have to pay less,” Tant said. “But we, as a school district, have to be careful.”
Never in Flagler’s history, he added, has the schools budget been so dependent on state funding. Whereas in 2008-2009, about 6% to 10% of all school revenues came from the state, that number today is 41.9%
From a total general fund budget of about $95 million, Flagler’s local fund contribution, after the millage rate drop (from 5.533 mills last year to 5.445 mills today), is down to $52 million.
“It’s a huge difference,” he said, “which really exposes us to any fluctuation that we have no control over.”
Whereas millage revenues come from local property owners and is guaranteed, he added, part of the $3.4 million the state just handed over to make up for Flagler’s millage loss could be taken away if sales tax revenues don’t come in where they are projected to — a possibility Tant takes very seriously.
“It could go down again, and it almost always does,” he said. “Usually, we have a reduction in state funding after they know their final revenues.”
To play it safe, he and staff plan to “slow down expenditures” in the first half of the year, so that if cuts do happen, “we’re not in crisis mode.”
“Thank God that they increased (our funding),” Tant said, “but we better be very careful, because that increase could disappear (by the end of year).”