Judge considers arguments in Clay County half-cent sales tax lawsuit

School board says the issue can't wait until next year

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – A judge in Clay County heard arguments Friday morning in the school board's lawsuit against Clay County commissioners over a proposed half-cent sales tax. 

The attorneys for both sides based their arguments on how the law is written and which governing entity -- the school board or the commission -- has the authority to select the election date for which the sales tax will appear on the ballot.

The judge must decide which interpretation is correct. He said he will issue a ruling by the end of next week.

Last month, commissioners voted against setting a date for a special election this year sending it back to the school board with revisions. That would include moving the vote to next year.

"I'm still very confident that we will prevail. I thought our county attorney did a spectacular job in framing the arguments and citing the precedents that support our case. I think in the long run, we will come out on top," County Commission Chairman Mike Cella said.

The school board says it needs an estimated $580 million to fix aging schools, and to build new schools to account for the droves of students expected to enter the school system over the next several years.

The school board also said last month that the commissioners overstepped their powers by refusing to set a special election date before the end of this year. 

The tax would span 30 years, bringing in more than $13 million annually. 

"Obviously, we can start doing some much-needed repairs earlier if we can get it on the ballot and the citizens do pass it," School Board Chair Carol Studdard said.

Superintendent Addison Davis said while the need to make repairs is there, building new schools would also cut down on the number of portable classrooms. 

Davis said on "The Morning Show" this week that taking the number of new students into account is also crucial when it comes to this proposed half-cent sales tax resolution. 

"There are tremendous needs in our school district over $280 million of deferred maintenance in Clay County District schools. On top of that, the next five to seven years we're going to have to build, you know, around five to seven schools and that's going to bring over 15,000 newcomers and about 6,000 students that we'll be able to intake into our school district," Davis said.  

If the judge rules in favor of the school board to have the referendum go on the ballot and the voters approve the half-cent sales tax, it would take effect Jan. 1.

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