A Letter from the Chairman of the 1/2 Cent Sales Tax Oversight Committee
Hi, I am Ashley C. Troutman, current Chairman of the Half Cent Sales Tax Oversight Committee of the Polk County School Board.
In 2003, the voters of Polk County had the foresight to anticipate the new construction and maintenance needs for our local school district by passing the Half Cent Sales Tax that has been the primary funding source for our local school construction needs for the past 15 years. To implement this tax, efforts were made by a broad contingency of business and civic leaders called Polk Businesses for a World Class Education. This group took the message of our need for facility improvements for our schools to local service clubs, community groups, churches, PTA meetings, etc. Voters from across party lines supported the initiative. For that we say thank you, and so do the many educators, students, and parents that are served by the many new schools and remodels that have occurred since implementation. As a native of Polk County, I attended Polk County Public Schools from grades K-12; therefore, I can personally attest to the need that we had for many years to improve the conditions of some of our school facilities throughout the county. Since the tax has been implemented, many more business and civic leaders appointed by our elected school board members have served on the Half Cent Sales Tax Oversight Committee. This committee meets on a quarterly basis and reads through line-by-line budget items, and takes tours of improved facilities and facilities still in need of improvement. Each member over the past 15 years has had the opportunity to ask the tough questions of staff to ensure that the Polk Promise has remained just that, a promise. A promise that our school district made 15 years ago to do just what it has set out to do for our schools with the aid of the half cent sales tax. Our school district has continued to improve because of the funding that this tax has provided.
Polk County is the seventh largest school district in the State of Florida, yet the 4th lowest funded school district in the state. We continue to be an attractive place for families to move and raise a family as evidenced recently when a large number of Puerto Rican families relocated to Polk County after Hurricane Irma destroyed many parts of the island. Unfortunately, over the past 15 years, we have seen the resources available from Tallahassee for our local school district continue to shrink. This shortage was created through a number of sources, but mainly, the decrease of Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) dollars and the decrease of millage rates have been primary contributors. Not only that, but because of the more rural nature of our county, the current funding formula is not fair to our district. All these things make the revenue generated from the sales tax even more critical to the financial health of our district and the many new construction, remodeling, and maintenance needs that we face. As our population continues to climb, the need for the revenue generated by the half cent sales tax will not go away any time soon. We are at a critical juncture in time for the sales tax as it is set to sunset at the end of this year unless voters renew the tax by vote in November. We thank you in advance for your continued faithfulness in support of this sales tax as we are certain that you, too, will agree that our schools are much better now than 15 years ago because of it. Again, on behalf of the committee, our educators, students, and parents we thank you for your continued support of the sales tax.
Ashley C. Troutman
Half Cent Sales Tax Oversight Committee