Clay County district says sales tax money would help get rid of portables, build new schools

Clay County has around 900 portable classrooms which is near the top of the state for any school district

Clay County has around 900 portable classrooms which is near the top of the state for any school district.

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – A big issue Clay County voters will have to decide on this November will be a half-cent sales tax hike.

The proposal is on the ballot for Clay County schools. The district is saying it needs the money to rehabilitate aging schools and help build new ones in the county.

Some areas where the district would put the money include replacing HVAC units, updating plumbing and eliminating some portable classrooms.

Clay County has around 900 portable classrooms which is near the top of the state for any school district. The district is also looking to build more schools because of the growth in the county.

“It’s only for the rebuilding of the schools we have. The repairs of the schools. And of course you probably know we have a lot of growth headed this way. Over 12,000 new homes heading into Clay County in the next five to 10 years. We’re going to need five to seven new schools,” said Coordinator of Planning and Intergovernmental Relations Head Jim Fossa.

The district originally tried to put the measure on the ballot last year but was unsuccessful after a public battle with the Clay County Board of Commissioners who voted that the district had to put it on the 2020 ballot.

School district officials say they are opting for a sales tax hike instead of a property tax increase.

“Instead of putting it all on the backs of Clay County people with a millage increase or ad valorem taxes, we’re looking for a half-cent sales tax so when other people come into Clay County they help pay for it,” said Fossa.

He added that many other counties like St. Johns and Orange Counties use sales tax revenues.

This comes roughly two years after Clay County voters approved a property tax increase to pay for increased security needs. That vote funded the district’s police force which was formed after the vote.

“That’s only for five years and that’ll sunset. We don’t know if that will get voted in again or not. This sales tax is for 30 years and will cover that expense we wouldn’t receive from the millage. And this sales tax isn’t just for sales and security,” said Assistant Superintendent of Operations Bryce Ellis.

The district also said it has lost out on around $1 million a year in funding from a fund called “Public Education Capital Outlay” (PECO).

Officials told News4Jax the state has re-routed that money to Charter Schools and they’ve lost a funding source for many maintenance needs.

District Officials added that even newer schools in the county are at the age where they require major maintenance overhauls.

“People look at Fleming Island High School and Oakleaf High School and say that’s a new school. Well not really. They’re pushing 15-20 years and air conditioning in schools don’t last that long,” said Fossa.

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Specializes in Clay County issues, general assignment reporting and stories off the beaten path and anchors weekend evening newscasts.