Sales tax hike to fund school buildings draws mixed reaction

Duval County School Board may vote in May to ask voters for half-cent tax

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Reaction is pouring in after Duval County School Board on Tuesday took an initial step toward asking the voters to increase the sales tax a half-cent to fund renovation or replacement of dozens of Duval County's schools.

The increase would bring Jacksonville total sales tax to 7.5% and fund the $1.95 billion needed over the next decade to improve older school buildings or build new schools. The board could vote as early as next month to put the tax before voters, potentially in a special election in November.

"I consider this to be a historic vote -- a historic juncture for Jacksonville," News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney said. "If you look back over the half last century in Jacksonville, maybe the single greatest challenge, the single greatest problem that Jacksonville has had is public education. And now it’s coming to a head with this vote."

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry told News4Jax on Wednesday he's not ready to say that a sales tax is the way to go.

"That is the school board’s decision. They are going to have to make the case to the voters," Curry said.

Curry said he has seen some big numbers flying around with few details on how that money would be spent. He is looking forward to hearing more specifics.

“I think that’s going to be important for voters to make a decision," Curry said.

City Councilman Randy White said he also needs more information.

“It wouldn’t be hard for me because most of our schools are 50 years old and we got to do something because they are falling apart.”  He is hoping to meet with school board staff and get more information. 

Councilman-elect Matt Carlucci, who takes office in July, said the sales tax might be the way to go to fund school improvements.

”I am inclined to support it. I want to make sure they’ve got a good plan that addresses all of the problems," Carlucci said.

People downtown Wednesday -- both those with children in school and some who don't -- seem open to the funding plan.

"That seems pretty darn reasonable," Catherine Byerly said.

"I think it something I could support as long as it’s done correctly," Kyle Camps said.

The school board staff is ironing out details -- including whether or not a referendum must be approved by the Jacksonville City Council before it would go on the ballot.

Local-option sales taxes in every Florida county

In addition to Florida's 6% sales tax, most Florida counties levy additional "local option" taxes, ranging from 0.5% up to 2.5%. Duval County's sales tax is currently 7% -- 1% of it local. On the map below, the darker the green, the higher the tax. Point to any county to see its rate.

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