Clay County Commission hits back at School Board over sales tax

Commissioners say they did not refuse to put the referendum on the ballot

By Garrett Pelican - Digital executive producer, Scott Johnson - Reporter

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. - The Clay County Board of Commissioners is striking back at the School Board, saying it’s not a matter of if but rather when a sales tax referendum will happen.

In court filings Monday, Clay County Attorney Courtney Grimm argued that commissioners balked at putting the issue on the ballot this year in part because they believe it makes more sense to wait until next year when a special election is not needed and voter turnout will be substantially higher.

Those arguments come in response to a court order for the county commission to show why it did not agree to hold a special election at the request of the School Board, which sued July 19 in hopes of forcing the county commission to approve the request.

The county commission’s filings ask the judge to dismiss the School Board’s case.

DOCUMENTS: School Board complaint | County Commission response

State law gives the School Board the authority to issue a half-cent sales tax to pay for big-ticket projects, like the construction of new schools, with the blessing of the Board of County Commissioners (BCC). But, Grimm noted, the law does not specify when it must happen – that’s up to commissioners.

According to School Board figures, the tax would in 30 years collect two-thirds of the roughly $600 million required to renovate existing schools and build new ones needed to keep up with growth. 

“Contrary to the School Board’s claim, the BCC did not refuse to place the referendum on the ballot but instead exercised its lawful discretion by requesting that the School Board revise and return to the BCC” with a resolution for a referendum for the November 2020 general election, Grimm wrote.

Grimm cited the remarks of an elections official, who anticipates voter turnout in 2020 will reach 60 to 87 percent, compared to 26 percent in an off year. She also noted the School Board’s resolution had several errors that, if not fixed, might disrupt an election.

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