Seminole voters will decide on property tax increase



SANFORD, Fla. - It will now be up to Seminole County voters to decide whether to raise their own property taxes in an effort to save their schools.

On Tuesday night the Seminole County School Board voted to put the tax hike on the November ballot.

The meeting was heated at times, with some people worried that the A-rated school system is in trouble, and other expressing concern that a tax hike could damage a struggling local economy.

"We don't have Disney World. We don't have the arena. We don't even have Wally World. But we have the best school system in the state," said Lew Cottrill at the Tuesday night meeting.

Those in favor of raising property taxes were passionate, saying a top-rated school system is what drives Seminole County, and they're worried the system is in trouble.

Over the past four years the district has been forced to slash $73 million from its budget and cut over 700 jobs. Outgoing School Superintendent Bill Vogel warned that the district is nearing the edge of a fiscal cliff.

"It's about preserving our academic programs, our vocational programs, our arts and athletics," said Vogel.

But those against raising taxes came out in force as well.

"When you raise taxes it has a negative impact to the economy," said Grant Maloy.

A $1 million property tax increase would cost the average Seminole County homeowner about $130 more each year.

The county's biggest businesses would pay much more.

The joint venture that owns JC Penney and the movie theater at the Altamonte Mall would pay almost $90,000 more.

The Colonial Grand Apartments in Lake Mary would pay $37,000 more.

Attorney John Morgan would pay about $2,000 more each year on his Lake Mary mansion.

After some testy back-and-forth between school board  members, the board voted three to two to approve a ballot question that would allow up to a $1 million increase for up to four years.

The question will go to voters in the November election.