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Citrus School Board says cuts will be devastating

8:44 PM, Nov 30, 2012   |    comments
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Citrus County, Florida- A battle over property taxes is heading to court as Progress/Duke Energy sues Citrus County's property appraiser, the tax collector and Florida Department of Revenue over $15 million in property taxes.

The dispute comes a month after the county certified its tax roll and approved its budget.

Citrus schools are being hit the hardest, taking an $8 million punch 5 months into the school year.

"Blackmail," says Pat Deutschman, Citrus County School Board Member. "I call it extortion," responds Geoffrey Greene, Citrus Property Appraiser. 

The exchange happened during an emergency meeting of the school board to discuss these unplanned budget cuts.

"A calculated, intentional move" are words used by school board members and county leaders to describe Progress/Duke Energy's dispute and refusal to pay $15 million in taxes after the county's tax roll had been approved. 

The utility company made a good faith payment of $19 million on Wednesday, but is disputing the balance of a $35 million tax bill.

"We have a bullying policy, and there are serious consequences," says Thomas Kennedy, school board member.

School district officials say if Progress/Duke Energy is the bully, they are the victims.

"$8 million represents 150 high school teachers' salaries. We only have three high schools," says Pat Deutschman, school board member. "Effects are devastating no matter what the cuts are that we take."

Superintendent Sandra Himmel says they can prevent lay-offs the first year, but everything else is on the table- including transportation. The district now offers courtesy busing to all students, but district leaders say the two mile radius rule may have to be applied to save money.

"They're the Grinch that stole Christmas," say Linda Powers, school board member.

Citrus County School Board Members and County Commissioners will hold a joint meeting December 10 to go over budget cuts and decide their plan of action to protect $15 million of taxpayer money.

Isabel Mascarenas

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