Santa Rosa County School District Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick plans to make his pitch Wednesday to raise more money from the county’s taxpayers to build more schools.
The school system already collects a half-cent sales tax, which will generate an estimated $9 million this fiscal year. A proposed $5,000 impact fee on new single-family homes would add an estimated $7 million to the school system’s coffers.
Wyrosdick already explained to his School Board that the half-cent falls short of funding new schools. They approved his proposal unanimously. He faces a more skeptical five-member Santa Rosa County commission at 2 p.m. Wednesday in their chambers.
The lobbying reminds me of when I covered the late Santa Rosa County Superintendent Benny Russell. He kicked-off a two-week blitz in May 1997 to persuade taxpayers to impose a half-cent sales tax to provide schools for its influx of students.
His campaign included broadcasting a taped 30-minute program to each school across its television network that reached about 2,000 voters. More than 50,000 brochures were mailed out to county residents. Russell and his staff even answered questions by phone, fax machine and mail about the sales tax, which back then produced about $2.5 million a year.
A former backup quarterback to Buffalo Bills Jack Kemp, a 1965 American Football League MVP and U.S. House of Representatives member for 18 years, Russell deftly handled the controversial issue of taxes in the rural county.
Used to being a leader, Russell earned the highest voter approval rating among the three half-cent special referendums held for school construction in 1997, 2007 and 2017. The sales tax won by a landslide with 79 percent support.
The tall, handsome jock from Jay won the election with his aw-shucks attitude that masked his highly competitive spirit.
The sales tax issue — that Russell called the most important election in his nearly two-decade tenure — gained support from all 40 precincts that existed then, from Jay to Navarre Beach. Additionally, the school district became the fifth to pass the half-cent sales tax in Florida, since the state allowed it in 1995.
Now, Wyrosdick proposes a school impact fee that would be the second highest among Florida counties with populations under 200,000. Only Martin County, with more than 159,000 residents, would be higher at $5,567.39 per new house.
This is Wyrosdick’s chance to go down in school system history, just like Russell, in one of his most significant actions for students in his three terms in office.
Duwayne Escobedo covers Santa Rosa County for the Daily News. You can contact him at 850-315-4489 in Fort Walton Beach, on his cell phone at 850-255-1484 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org