City Council approves school sales tax referendum for November ballot

After contentious path, City Council voted 18-1 to add referendum

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday night voted 18-1 to add a referendum on a half-cent sales tax for Duval County schools to the ballot in November.

The decision marked the end to what has been a contentious and litigious fight.

Upset by the slow-moving process, and ultimately, the withdrawal of the bill last August, Duval County Public Schools sued the city the following month about the failure to bring the measure to voters. The referendum was brought back to the table on Feb. 25. Supporters made their case last month for the measure.

The Duval County School Board says it needs a staggering amount of money for improvements to aging schools, in excess of $1.9 billion. The half-cent sales tax would be in effect for 15 years and could net $1.2 billion.

The referendum was approved by three committee votes on Monday and Tuesday last week in relatively seamless fashion, earning 19 “yes” votes among the three and just two “no” votes. The Neighbor Community Service, Public Health and Safety Committee voted 6-1 for it. The Finance committee voted 7-0 in favor, while the Rules committee voted 6-1 in favor.

Councilman Rory Diamond was the lone “no” vote on Tuesday.

The decision was celebrated by school board members who say the funding for schools is long overdue.

“We have a great opportunity to take care of kids, teachers, and Public schools while creating jobs!” board member Elizabeth Andersen tweeted.

School board chairman Warren Jones said the half-penny sales tax is desperately needed to improve and maintain existing schools, build new schools where needed and to pay off debt.

“It’s time that we move forward,” Jones said Tuesday. “It gives the students an opportunity to realize that in the future they will be learning in a 21st century learning environment and that important.”

It’s a plan that was largely supported by the community, according to one poll conducted by the University of North Florida. According to the June 2019 poll by the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at UNF, 75 percent of Duval County registered voters supported increasing sales tax by a half-cent to upgrade or replace aging schools.

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