Brevard schools say clearer tax ballot may help voters

Board members craft 75-word message on ballot

VIERA, Fla. – Brevard School Board members want ballot language for a schools sales tax to be written as clearly as possible.

Last time, after the tax failed in 2012, some complained that they didn't know what they were voting on.

According to Local 6 News partner Florida Today, elected officials discussed draft ballot language on Tuesday, and heard how, this time around, additional efforts were being taken in crafting the 75-word message.

Phrases such as "shall it be allowed" are being replaced with "would you support," and "school capital outlay surtax on sales" replaced with "one-half cent surtax on sales."

"In 2012, it was approached more from a legal perspective," School District spokeswoman Michelle Irwin said. Now, with more time to create the message, additional input is being sought from parents, teachers and community members.

Up in the air is how long the tax would last. Superintendent Brian Binggeli is recommending it span 10 years. At a minimum, the district would ask for six.

School Board members asked for one change at Tuesday's meeting, to say the tax will last "no more than 10 years," instead of "a period of 10 years."

"The length of time has been so controversial with folks," School Board Member Barbara Murray said. "That sends a strong message."

Unlike in 2012, however, ballot language would not automatically stop the sales tax if property tax revenues returned to 2008 levels. The drop in property taxes, along with declines in state funding, is why officials are seeking the sales tax.

Binggeli also is recommending the ballot specify how tax money would be spent — and, new this time, an additional level of accountability.

The school district is developing a school-by-school list of maintenance, technology and security projects that would be paid for by the tax.

In addition, the district would create an oversight committee, with community members with certain professional backgrounds — such as construction, auditing and finance — monitoring tax expenses.

School Board members would make committee appointments through a volunteer application process. They would review expenses as compared to the district's spending plan, and report back to the School Board.

"None of this is set in stone," Irwin said, explaining that the committee process is still being developed.

The School Board is expected to vote on the ballot language, with revisions, by mid-July.

"I welcome the language and I can't wait to vote," School Board Member Michael Krupp said. "We're one of the very, very few districts that hasn't (passed a sales tax)."

If approved in November, the sales tax would raise more than $32 million, and potentially stave off additional budget cuts. Without it, officials may have to cut from the district's operating budget, which pays for day-to-day expenses such as teacher salaries, in order to pay for needed capital projects.