Clay County voters approve tax hike to pay for school security

School Board District 5 incumbent to face challenger on November ballot

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – In Tuesday's primary election, Clay County voters approved an increase in the property tax rate to fund school resource officers at all of the county's schools.

The property tax referendum passed with 21,603 votes, or 53 percent,  while 18,416 voted against the proposal. 

That means the county's property tax rate will increase to $7.43 per $1,000 of taxable value. The county estimates that will generate $10 million annually to pay for school security.

ELECTION RESULTS | Primary returns: Clay County races

Superintendent Addison Davis told News4Jax that the approval of the referendum is "a big deal for Clay County."

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."

The item was added to the primary ballot after the February school shooting at Marjory 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.

After much debate, the Clay County School Board decided to ask voters to increase property taxes.

District leaders said the 1.0 millage rate increase will cost the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 an extra $100 per year. 

Studdard said the dedicated revenue will 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 schools. For now, elementary schools have security personnel who are not trained law enforcement personnel.

The higher tax rate will apply from the middle of next year through mid-2023.  

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

Clay County School Board races

Three Clay County School Board seats were also among the races on the primary ballot for all Clay County voters. 

Of the three incumbent school board members facing challengers, only one of them won re-election in Tuesday's primary.

District 1 incumbent Janice Kerekes won with 57 percent of the vote. Latanya Peterson got 42 percent.

In the District 3 race, Tina Bullock defeated incumbent Betsy Condon 53 percent to 46 percent.

As for the District 5 race, none of three candidates received more than 50 percent of the vote, forcing a runoff. 

The top two candidates -- incumbent Ashley Gilhousen and Lynne Chafee -- will face each other on the November ballot. 

Gilhousen finished with 48 percent of the vote, and Chafee came in second with 29 percent.  

The third District 5 candidate, Travis Christensen, came in at 21 percent. 

About the Authors:

Jacksonville native and proud University of Florida graduate who joined News4JAX in 2016.

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.