Workshop provides no consensus on half-cent sales tax plan

City Council President Scott Wilson says 2020 likely a better bet for referendum

By Maggie Lorenz - Multi-media journalist

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Time is running out for the Jacksonville City Council to make a decision about the half-cent sales tax proposed by the Duval County School Board if the council wants the referendum on November’s ballot.

The sales tax hike would raise $1.2 billion over a 15-year span and, in doing so, help pay for an estimated $1.9 billion school officials say is sorely needed to renovate and replace some of the city’s aging schools.

On Monday, City Council President Scott Wilson joined the School Board for its workshop to discuss the issue. Though some want the tax to go on the ballot this year, Wilson said too many unknowns remain.

“I think 2020 gives us more time to work through the process to get some questions answered that I know my colleagues have,” said Wilson, who noted he’s supportive of putting it to vote next year.

Among the biggest questions are which schools and projects should take priority, and how much funding charter schools would receive as part of the school district’s $1.9 billion spending plan.

Complicating matters is the addition of seven new City Council members, some of whom have suggested they would be in favor of putting the sales tax on the ballot sooner rather than later.

“I think it should happen this year,” said Councilman Matt Carlucci, adding that he’d like to see students receive better facilities “as soon as possible.”

Fellow newcomer Randy DeFoor isn’t optimistic about the 2019 timeline. “My expectation is it’s probably going to go to 2020, simply because we’re running out of time,” she said.

Mayor Lenny Curry, who’s been open about leaning toward putting the issue on the ballot next year instead of this year's, sang a slightly different tune Monday.

“I am not telling the School Board to put the brakes on what they want to do with their projects,” he said. “I have been very clear that we need to invest in our schools. They have infrastructure needs, but what they need is very specifically their priorities.”

So what difference would it make putting the issue on the ballot next year in lieu of this year? According to School Board Chair Lori Hershey, quite a lot – especially when it comes to the bottom line.

“Currently we spend about half a million dollars a month on repairs and maintenance for our schools,” she said. “And certainly anything that is in dire need of a repair will be addressed and we will continue to ensure that our students are learning in schools that are safe.”

It’s evident, at least based on Monday’s back-and-forth discussion, that there’s still a lot to talk about before anyone reaches a consensus. 

Tuesday might provide some direction. Two City Council committees will take up the issue in the morning and make a decision – or defer it once again.

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