Sales tax for Duval County schools likely on ballot this year

Half-cent sales tax would raise an estimated $1.2 billon over 15 years

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It looks like voters will finally get a chance to vote on a half-cent sales tax to raise funds to fix or replace dilapidated schools in Duval County.

News4Jax has learned legislation to put the question on the November ballot will be introduced to the Jacksonville City Council next Tuesday. The measure, which is still being drafted, will likely face little opposition from the council members who raised concerns when it was first proposed last summer.

Councilmen Tommy Hazouri and Matt Carlucci have been pushing for Council to take up the measure. If approved by Council, the referendum would ask voters if an additional half-cent sales tax should be collected if that money was used to repair or replace dilapidated schools, some of which have described as in the worst condition in the state.

State funding cuts for capital improvements have reduced facility funding by almost $300 million over 11 years. School officials said this caused a $243 million backlog of maintenance projects. Because of the age of the schools, maintenance costs are expected to balloon to $1 billion in five years.

The half-cent sales tax would be limited to 15 years and would raise an estimated $1.2 billion over that period.

Mayor Lenny Curry said Wednesday it’s something he will support and he is working with all sides to iron out details.

“I think we need to get this on the ballot,” Curry said Wednesday.

When the plan was first proposed last year, several Council members were concerned about how much money would be shared with charter schools and others didn’t like the idea of holding a special election for the referendum. The bill was withdrawn.

This year the Florida legislature is considering a bill that would require charter schools to receive the same per-pupil funding as traditional schools from any tax revenue received from this and similar initiatives. If that bill passes, which is likely, it would take the question out of the hands of local officials.

School Board Chairman Warren Jones said the fact that the Council will take up the measure is a good thing, but he has concerns about charter schools, which tend to be relatively new, receiving equal funding as older, traditional schools that have buildings in need of a lot of attention.

“If we focus on that and improving that learning environment, we can get past this issue of how much we share (with charter schools)," Jones said. “We are sharing dollars with charter schools. The proposal that we put out is there and it does provide additional funding for charter schools, just not as much as they want.”

The school board sued the city over not putting the referendum on the ballot when first requested last year. The city has spent more than $200,000 fighting that lawsuit, which is still pending. It’s not clear if a City Council vote to move forward with the referendum this year will resolve that legal issue.

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