Sales tax renewal needed to pay for Orange County (Florida) district's massive facility needs

May 10, 2024
Officials in the nation's 8th-largest district say that between now and 2033, they require $2.7 billion to complete needed projects.

The Orange County (Florida) school district says its needs to build 15 new campuses, add classrooms to seven others that are getting crowded, renovate 96 older schools and replace roofs, air-conditioning units, fire alarms and technology at campuses across the county.

But, the Orlando Sentinel reports, the district won't be able to pay for the $2.7 billion worth of the projects the district wants to complete by 2033 unless county voters agree in November to extend a half-penny sales tax.

“The capital needs for the eighth-largest district in the nation are significant and growing,” said Rory Salimbene, the district’s chief facilities officer.

Rising construction prices — the cost of an elementary school has nearly doubled in the last five years — and budget constraints brought on by changes in state laws, among other issues, would make Orange County's 10-year construction proposal more of a wish list than a planning document, if the sales tax does not get renewed.

The school board has voted to put the sales tax extension referendum on the November ballot, and this week the Orange County Commission agreed it could go to voters on Nov. 5.

District leaders hope voters will say yes again to a tax that since 2002 has paid for the renovation of 136 older campuses and the construction of 65 new ones.

In Orange County, a yes vote in November would mean the local sales tax stays at 6.5% for another 10 years. The sales tax now pays for more than 45% of the district’s capital funding; local property taxes covers about 42% and impact fees paid by developers of new homes provide about 10%.

The sales tax has become necessary as state support for school construction has eroded, officials said.

A new state law that requires school districts to give a share of local property taxes to charter schools, also will mean less in construction coffers, said Doreen Concolino, the district's chief financial officer. The law could mean Orange County district would have to split about $3 million among the 42 Orange charter schools this year and must send them up to $27 million in five years, Concolino said.

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