|Ocala, FL -
March 8, 2012|
There are no more important quality of life issues in any community than good schools and access to good health care.
Just how important they are to our own community will likely be gauged by the voters in November, if tax referendums being considered by the Munroe Regional Medical Center trustees and the Marion County School Board come to fruition.
Both will undoubtedly be met with knee-jerk objections from the no-new-taxes crowd, but voters genuinely concerned about our community’s future and its ability to grow and prosper in an ever-evolving 21st century would be wise to carefully examine the reasons these taxes are being sought and what the consequences will be for all if they fail. The decisions to put them before the voters were made painstakingly and postponed as long as possible.
Both entities have proved good stewards of the the community’s assets and money. Munroe has undergone a half dozen management assessments, all of which deemed it well run and fiscally responsible — among the best in the state. The school system, meanwhile, has received the highest honor for governmental accounting, the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, from the Government Finance Officers Association for 11 years in a row and has the third lowest per-student administrative costs in Florida. These are fiscally tight ships.
The School Board on Tuesday voted to put a 1 mill tax on the fall ballot. It would raise property tax bills $1 per $1,000 of taxable valuation and generate an estimated $14 million annually, to be split between instructional and capital improvement needs. A property tax was picked over a sales tax because school sales taxes can only be spent on capital improvements, like construction, equipment and technology.
The Munroe trustees yet to finalize any plan to put a one-half percent sales tax on the ballot but have indicated they are leaning in that direction to avoid long-running deficits. A one-half percent sales tax also would generate about $14 million a year. Everyone who makes purchases in Marion County would contribute to this tax.
No one likes taxes, but our schools have seen $50 million, or 17 percent, of its budget cut over the past four years with more cuts on the way. Enrollment, however, has remained nearly constant and fixed expenses have continued to rise. And Munroe, widely acknowledged as one of America’s top community hospitals, cannot continue to provide its current level of quality care without enduring a flood of red ink — especially with 80,0000 uninsured residents in our community.
There will be plenty of discussion and debate in the coming months about the need for these taxes, who will pay them and how best to invest them. Of course there will be those who point to our lagging economy as a reason not to consider tax hikes at all.
Yet, we are certain that without good schools and access to good health care, Ocala/Marion County’s rebirth as a prosperous and thriving community with a new and more diverse economy will be much more difficult to pull off.
We urge voters to be open minded. Look at the facts. All of us need and want good schools and access to good health care, and as we are frequently reminded, we get what we pay for.