Clay County voters asked to increase taxes to pay for school security

1 mill property tax increase on primary ballot

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – Among the items on the primary ballot this August, Clay County voters are being asked to vote for or against raising property taxes to fund school resource officers at all of the county's schools.

This comes after the February school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland prompted the Florida Legislature to require school districts to put security guards in every public school in the state. School boards across Florida are struggling to figure out how to pay for it.

The state did provide $1.6 million in funding, but Clay County School Board Chairwoman Carol Studdard said it was not enough to pay for armed, trained security officers in each of the 39 public schools in Clay County.

 “We had to come up with a way to comply with the law. And we did not have the money to put school resource officers in all of our elementary, junior and senior high schools. We found that we could continue to have resource officers in our high schools,” said Studdard.

After much debate, the Clay County School Board decided to ask voters to increase property taxes. District leaders said the proposed 1.0 millage rate increase would cost the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 an extra $100 per year. The tax would bring the county's property tax rate to 7.438 mills and raise an estimated $10 million annually to pay for security.

Clay County ballot question

Shall an additional one (1) mill of school district ad valorem millage tax, beginning July 1, 2019, and ending June 30, 2023, be approved to enhance the safety and security of students and staff, and provide for necessary operating expenses for the School District."

Studdard said the dedicated revenue would allow the district to pay for school resource officers -- sworn sheriff’s deputies like those already assigned to high schools and junior high schools -- at all county school. For now, elementary schools have security personnel who are not trained law enforcement personnel.

If approved, the higher tax rate would apply from the middle of next year through mid-2023.  

The school district has put out numbers that show property tax rates in have dropped five times since 2002, giving Clay county homeowners one of the lowest tax burdens in the state.

Many voters still don’t know about the tax hike proposal or haven't made up their minds about it.

“I don’t know. I’d have to give it more thought," Fred Kite said. "They need guards in the schools. How they come up with the money? I’m not sure the best way to do that."

“I’m scared for the children," Middleburg voter Viola Wilson said. "I’m in between, haven’t made up my mind yet. Somebody needs to sell me on it."

A political action group named the Clay Family Policy Forum sent a flyer to voters, claiming that the district only needs $21.3 million to fund school security for four years, but the tax hike would bring in $44 million. The group wrote: "The school district could receive non-itemized 'necessary operating expenses' totaling $22.7 million.'"

Clay County leaders have also discussed proposing a sales tax hike to voters even if this property tax hike is approved. That money would also go toward campus security district-wide.

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