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Hillsborough County voters to decide on new property tax

On Tuesday, Hillsborough County voters can weigh in on a referendum that would generate around $146 million annually for public schools.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — There's a push for a new property tax in Hillsborough County. 

In this year's primary election on Aug. 23, voters in Hillsborough County can decide to support a one-mil referendum, which would generate approximately $146 million annually.

The money would go toward increasing salaries for teachers and staff along with expanding art, music, physical education and workforce education programs.

Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis says this will help with the ongoing teacher shortage.

“We have over 580 instructional vacancies, and that doubles what our norm historically is at this particular time,” he explained.

Davis is making a final push for the referendum — saying it's a critical step to stay competitive. 

"You have Sarasota, you have Manatee, you have Pinellas. They all have an increased millage, and they're all leveraging and poaching our highly qualified, diverse workforce every single day," Davis said.

The tax hike would generate $146 million annually, and that money would go primarily go to salary increases for staff.

Property values have gone up more than 28 percent in Hillsborough County year-over-year, and the county property appraiser tells us locally Hillsborough County Schools will get more than $58 million in additional tax revenue this year. That's on top of the tax revenue coming from the state. 

The question from some taxpayers now is: Why is that money not enough? 

“Why, as a taxpayer, should I be trusting you to spend more money when I don't even know that you're spending the money you have in a fiscally responsible manner?" community member Alison Fernandez asked during a school board meeting on May 10.

Rob Kriete, president of Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, says the upside of the referendum is all of the money generated would stay local.

“With this mill referendum, all of these funds would be generated locally and spent locally," Kriete said. "All the other funds and the other increases in property taxes, that's not necessarily so. 

"Some of them do stay here, but as a large district and a large local, a lot of these dollars get redistributed across the state by law.”

In order for it to pass, 51 percent of voters have to approve of the referendum or it dies — so what’s the backup plan?

"We’ll continue to follow our financial recovery plan to be able to make some very hard, difficult decisions and make sure we're hitting a threshold outlined by the department of education," Davis said. 

The proposed tax would demand an additional dollar for every $1,000 of real estate value for people who live in Hillsborough County. In other words, if a home is assessed at $200,000, the property owner pays $200 after Florida's Homestead Exemption is applied.

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