Clay County property owners could see tax increase to fund school security

School board passes referendum to add tax hike to August primary election ballot

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Clay County schools could be one step closer to getting money through a tax increase to fund school security.

The Clay County School Board passed a referendum that would increase property taxes by 1 mil rate. Voters will decide whether to approve or deny the increase

In a 4-1 vote Tuesday night, the Clay County Board of Commissioners agreed to add the tax increase to the ballot of the Aug. 28 primary election.

School board members are divided on how to pay for their school safety plan. The divide was heard clearly at their last board meeting on Thursday. Some board members believe increasing the property tax by $1 is the answer, while others say the board is looking hard enough for the funding. 

Board member Janice Kerekes wants the property tax increase. 

"We realize we need this," Kerekes said. "So, the bottom line is that the community is demanding that we make our schools safer and we have to fund it somehow, and we know that Tallahassee is not given us the dollars to fund it. So I am proud to support it ... to make our schools safer."

Vice Chairwoman Betsy Condon said she believes homeowners will pay, on average, an extra $200 a year with a $1 levy increase. She's against it.  

"I don't feel confident that we have scrubbed every single line item of our budget to look for additional ways that we can fund things differently," Condon said.

According to the Clay County School District, the current levy is $6.43 per $1,000 of assessed property. If voters approve the $1 levy increase, the levy would change to $7.43 -- that would be a $743 on a $100,000 home, or about $100 more a year in taxes.

Clay County resident Ed Orta said you can't put a price on a student's safety, and would vote for the tax increase.

"For security of the kids, everything, I think it is a good idea," Orta told News4Jax on Monday. "If it's going to be used for what they intended it for, then it's worth it." 

The clock is ticking. The state requires schools to have a school safety officer in each school by August.

Despite the divide, everyone agrees they want a plan that can help prevent a shooting, such as the one in Parkland, from ever happening again.

The county commission is required to put the levy referendum on the ballot.

Voters will vote for or against the tax increase in the Aug. 28 primary election.

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