Broward legislators are considering asking voters to approve a new property tax to pay for police in all county public schools and provide mental health referrals for students and school staff.
The proposal is still in its infancy. Under the latest draft, the School Safety Act of Broward County would place a referendum on the August 2014 primary election ballot asking voters to authorize an additional property tax of 50 cents for every $1,000 of taxable property value.
The owner of a $250,000 home with a full homestead exemption could pay $100 more a year. All together, the proposed tax could raise $55 million countywide – if the board set up to oversee the program imposed the maximum tax rate.
If voters went along, the county would get an 11-member Broward School Safety Board with a mission to provide funding for "all necessary school security" and "mental health referral services for all students and staff" at schools operated by the Broward School District.
It wouldn't apply to private or religious schools and Sobel said she didn't know if it would apply to charter schools, which are public institutions that operate independently of many traditional school district rules.
Sobel, a former School Board member, said the school district and city governments would get to keep the money they now spend on school resource officers – sometimes police, sometimes retired police officers – and spend it elsewhere.
The plan would apply only to Broward, which Sobel said she wants to make "the example for the rest of the state."
She presented the proposal Friday to the Broward Legislative Delegation, which she chairs, but didn't get to advance the plan after state Reps. Hazelle Rogers, D-Lauderhill, and Sharon Pritchett, D-Miramar, objected to acting before lawmakers have a chance to discuss the idea with School Board members.
Democrats make up the overwhelming majority of Broward legislators, and on Friday they voted in favor of another referendum idea, with the same level of additional taxes, to pay for services to seniors.
Republicans who control the House and Senate in Tallahassee, and would have to vote on the proposed tax increase referendums, are skeptical of tax increase ideas and state Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, was the only "no" vote Friday on the senior tax idea. He said the County Commission already has the taxing authority to increase funding for senior services if it sees a need.
Sobel said her idea would pay for something the National Rifle Association, which has lots of clout among Republicans, has called for, but Moraitis said he wasn't sure how the idea would fare with his colleagues. "It's hard to handicap in this environment," he said.
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