Schools and roads: Is there room for two tax hikes on the ballot?

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Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins held the first of several town hall forums Tuesday to try to convince voters that a half-cent sales tax hike is necessary to improve schools.

The potential tax increase is up for a vote on the November ballot and, according to Eakins, would pour $131 million a year into the district for the next decade.

During the first of eight town hall meetings with parents, faculty and other voters, the superintendent explained how those funds would be used.

"This is about our buildings. This is about taking care of the conditions in our classrooms every day for our teachers and our students," he said, adding that deteriorating air conditioning systems would be at the top of the list. "We'll probably be able to overhaul about 200 A.C. units across Hillsborough County. We have 230 schools so that's a massive overhaul that needs to be done. We're going to take care of leaky roofs. We want to make sure that we also renovate our classrooms to ensure there are the proper technologies, workforce-ready classrooms in our middle schools and high schools and elementary schools. Every school in our district will see revenue coming in to support their schools, a minimum of at least a half a million dollars per school."

Eakins said a half-cent sales tax would cost a typical family an additional $63 a year.

The superintendent told FOX 13 he also wanted to explain how the district ended up in this situation. He said, during the recession, state lawmakers moved money for schools into the state's own budget.

A decade later, the district still has not seen that money and is facing a $1 billion backlog in maintenance issues and needs an additional $1 billion to prepare for future growth.

A lot of parents in attendance believe passing this measure is a necessity.

"I think it's absolutely imperative. We have not, for a large number of years, gotten very much from the state," said Kim Klase, whose children attend two different Hillsborough County schools. "If this is the way that we have to fund our schools and make sure that our kids get what they need, I'm in favor."

Several parents told Eakins they have reservations given the issues the district has had with its budget prior to Eakins' term as superintendent.

"The money hasn't been spent where I think we, the taxpayers, would want to be spent," said Tom Dusold, who said he plans to vote 'yes' on the referendum. "In defense of Superintendent Eakins, I think a lot of that happened under previous watches and I think he's done a great job of cleaning it up, but I can see the trepidation on the part of the voters in trusting the district with money."

The next seven town hall forums will take place between now and the end of October and are spread out throughout the county.