BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — A heated debate between both sides of a proposed Bay County tax increase kicked off Tuesday night at the Nelson Building.
The Founder of Bay County Tax Payers LLC, Dr. Jon Ward took on Bay District Superintendent Bill Husfelt to discuss important details on the referendum.
In the debate, Superintendent Husfelt partnered with Vice President of Bay County Educators, Alexis Underwood. They are in favor of the tax.
Dr. Ward and Tho Bishop, Vice President of the Bay County Republican Party oppose the proposed tax.
“It just goes to show you, you can have similar information and have wildly different opinions,” Dr. Ward said.
Both sides answered questions submitted by residents.
Ward and Bishop suggested to Husfelt that the district implement targeted raises for only certain district employees.
“I think it’s very important for your lowest income workers to get raises. A 3% raise to someone whose making $10-12 means a lot more, it means the world… Than someone who sits in the Nelson Building and makes $80,000 a year,” Dr. Ward said.
Husfelt and Underwood countered that argument and said targeted raises are already implemented and based on employee evaluations.
“We have a lot of funding, but it can’t be used for salaries. That’s the main point. I wish it could be,” Superintendent Husfelt said.
Much of Dr. Ward’s argument claimed the district needs to be more transparent with the money they receive from the government. But Superintendent Husfelt said there are strict guidelines for these funds.
“That funding that we have earmarked is earmarked for a specific purpose and is not allowed by law, state and federal law to be used for anything else,” Superintendent Husfelt said.
The district was recently notified they will be receiving $24 million in ‘ESSER 2 funds,’ a COVID response-related funding initiative from the state. Ward said some of those funds can be used for the mental health portion of the referendum.
“They focus on specific areas there with the ESSER funding, mental health, they focus on summer learning programs, supplemental learning programs, the funding seems to be very, very flexible,” Dr. Ward said.
“Some of those federal dollars can be used for those little areas, mainly mental health and wellness. Yes it can be used for that. It can’t be used for safety and security, it can’t be used for Pre-K, and it cant be used for pay raises though,” Superintendent Husfelt said.
After the debate, both sides agreed the civil discussion was beneficial for voters to see both sides of the argument.
“I’ve got to be a role model for 25,000 students and our teachers and employees. I don’t have any other choice. That’s who I am and who I signed up to be. So I’m always going to be truthful and respectful,” Superintendent Husfelt said.
“I felt like it was a lot of fun. I can tell they feel strongly about their position and I feel strongly about my position. I feel like it set a good tone, it’s important to come together,” Dr. Ward said.
Early voting continues through Friday with election day on Tuesday, April 20.