Report: Duval’s half-cent sales tax garners $110M in 1st year, but public awareness needs improvement

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The committee overseeing Duval County’s half-cent sales tax for school improvement said in its first annual report it’s already ahead of schedule for how much revenue has been collected.

According to the report, the county’s half-cent sales tax generated more than $110 million in 2021, the first year that the tax has been in effect since it was approved by voters to help repair and replace aging schools. That’s well ahead of the projection of $88 million for last year.

The money is specifically earmarked for new school construction, backlogged maintenance projects and security upgrades -- with each school’s to-do list spelled out in an online dashboard.

As of the latest update, 48 different projects are taking bids right now -- 46 are in the design phase, one is under construction and four are completed.

Even projects that haven’t started yet have sales tax revenue already designated.

North Shore Elementary is budgeted to get more than $4.6 million from the sales tax for deferred maintenance work. And nearly $29 million in sales tax revenue is going to Rutledge Pearson Elementary to demolish the school and replace it.

The committee’s report also pointed to an ongoing challenge -- public frustration, confusion and a lack of awareness.

“Oftentimes, when information is out there, people tend to assume, and so I think, again, educating the community on the progress on the project helps with that,” said Hank Rogers, chairman of the Duval County Half-Cent Sales Tax Oversight Committee.

It’s particularly an issue as the Duval County School Board began considering a property tax increase to help retrain experienced teachers as the district faces more than 400 teacher vacancies as well as funding arts and athletics.

The feelings come through in comments from News4JAX Insiders.

“The half-cent sales tax should be used to set up shops to teach trades,” wrote an Insider with the username “Jax Beach.”

Another Insider with the username “Don Todd” wrote: “The governing bodies of this nation do not care about its tax paying citizens, their motto is pay up, shut up, and don’t ask questions.”

The committee recommended that Duval County Public Schools make more of an effort to let the community know how the tax revenue is being used, possibly even posting signs outside the schools where maintenance or construction is happening.

“I think what really is going to please the public is when they start to see shovels in the ground and start to see new schools go up and new buildings go up,” Rogers said. “I think people will really start to see the progress and work on their tax dollars at work.”

Another recommendation was to create a separate online dashboard to specifically display the information about charter schools and how much of this tax revenue is going to them. By law, charter schools do receive a slice of school tax revenue in Duval County.