Property tax referendum to help Duval schools clears City Council, goes to voters in August

A measure requested by the Duval County School Board that puts a property tax referendum on the August ballot faced a final reading and vote Tuesday night.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A measure requested by the Duval County School Board that puts a property tax referendum on the August ballot faced a final reading and vote Tuesday night.

Council voted 14-5 in favor of the measure, which Jacksonville City Council President Sam Newby called “a no-brainer.” The “no” votes came from council members Aaron Bowman, Rory Diamond, Al Ferraro, Randy White and Nick Howland.

Duval County Public Schools said the tax would be used to help increase teacher pay and improve arts and athletic programs.

The property tax increase would be for one millage rate over four years. The proposal was recommended by Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene.

Greene recommended that funds from the one mill also be used to enhance art programs, noting the half-penny sales tax that was passed by voters in 2020 can only be used for facility maintenance, safety upgrades, repairs and renovation.

The request comes as some families feel the economic strain spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, and over a year after Duval County voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund renovation, construction and security upgrades for the district’s facilities.

RELATED: How DCPS is spending money from half-cent sales tax

News4JAX spoke with political analyst Rick Mullaney about the measure. He said part one is the legal issue, which is moot in his opinion.

“The law is clear. This is up to the district. This will go to the voters if the district decides that and they did back in March. They voted 6-1 to do this,” Mullaney explained.

Mullaney said the second part of the equation — the policy considerations.

“What is this designed to do? Sixty-five percent of that $80 million has to go to salaries. The superintendent argues that this is an area of great need. There’s a shortage of teachers, that this is a problem,” Mullaney said.

The School Board’s request comes despite Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state legislature increasing funding for teacher salaries.

Greene and the board agree – that’s not enough; a point that can be argued.

“She says there’s compression and there’s a need. She also talks about money that will go to the arts and to athletics,” Mullaney said. “The rebuttal, of course, is that you just got $1.9 billion from this half-cent sales tax. You’re already getting an increase from the governor.”

Mullaney said that’s where the topic intersects part three — the politics of it. Even with a compelling argument by the district, the timing could be wrong.

“One year ago, you had an approval of gas tax increased by six cents. A year-and-a-half ago, you had a half-cent sales tax by the school district for infrastructure, $1.9 billion being raised. And of course, you don’t talk about it as a tax. But inflation at 8.5% is devastating to so many people,” Mullaney said.

He added, “That inflation rate, by the way, is going to cause property taxes to go up anyway, even without a rate increase.”

Which brings up the question of why council members would vote against the referendum. If it’s, as Mullaney described, “a ministerial function” for council to put the issue on the ballot.

Mullaney says it’s a way council members can express that – even if it’s on the ballot – they don’t support the property tax increase.

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.