MILTON — Santa Rosa County voters on Tuesday decided to continue the 18-year-old half-cent school infrastructure surtax for another 10 years.
Of 12,196 voters, 74.37 percent approved the tax. They represent 9.15 percent of the county’s 133,343 registered voters, according to the Supervisor of Elections office.
So, what’s next?
Other than maintenance and upgrades, the tax will fund two new schools: one in the Holley-Navarre area and the other in Pace, according to Santa Rosa County School District Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick.
“We expect to build at least two (schools) over the next five to eight years with the possibility of a third,” Wyrosdick said. “We bought property six to seven years ago to put a school (in Holley-Navarre). We also bought property off Highway 90 to build a school in Pace. With the tax passed, that gives us the flexibility to use those dollars to build those schools,” he said.
These will be kindergarten through eighth-grade schools, according to Wyrosdick; they will be similar to Central School, a K-12 campus in Chumuckla. The new schools will keep the older and younger students separate, according to Wyrosdick.
“You have to build differently. They’re modeled so they don’t mix the population,” he said.
The district will also need a high school on the county’s south end in about eight years, according to Wyrosdick. At 2,200 students, Navarre High School is over capacity and Gulf Breeze High is landlocked for expansion.
Bond language added to the referendum this year allows the district to borrow against future revenue to build these schools sooner, according to Wyrosdick.
The tax also will fund the district’s science, technology, engineering, art and math initiative.
“The referendum states the tax is for renovation, new construction, but also new technology,” Wyrosdick said. “We purchased quite a bit with the half-cent sales tax. It’s really important, especially since we embarked on the STEAM initiative, the technology generated by these dollars. We’d otherwise not be able to do that.”
Nick Holmes said he cast his ballot in favor of the initiative because his wife, Sarah, is in her first year working for Santa Rosa Adult School. The couple recently moved to the area from Kentucky.
“We chose (Santa Rosa County) over Pensacola because of the schools,” Holmes said.
If voters turned against the tax extension, one-third of the school district’s capital outlay budget would have been slashed, according to Joey Harrell, the district’s assistant superintendent of administrative services.
“We would have been in some dire straits to build and maintain our facilities,” he said.
“If there was no sales tax, we wouldn’t be able to do construction or build schools,” Wyrosdick said. “We would see schools go unrepaired. They’d be overcrowded and there would be no new schools because there is no other revenue source to build schools. We’d be pretty desperate,” he said.
“We have become very reliant on those dollars to keep our facilities maintained in a manner that is safe and conducive for our students,” Harrell said. “The taxpayers have entrusted in us again.
“We have shown that we are good stewards, and we will continue to be.”