School board wants voters to approve half-cent sales tax

BCC to consider special election to raise $300 million for school repairs

By Wesley LeBlanc Staff Writer
Posted 7/3/19

FLEMING ISLAND – The Clay County School Board approved a half-cent sales tax resolution Thursday that brings them closer to asking voters to secure funding for nearly $300 million in district …

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School board wants voters to approve half-cent sales tax

BCC to consider special election to raise $300 million for school repairs

Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – The Clay County School Board approved a half-cent sales tax resolution Thursday that brings them closer to asking voters to secure funding for nearly $300 million in district infrastructure needs.

With broken air conditioner units, roofs that need to be repaired or replaced and no foreseeable way to pay for it with a bond or loan, the board has focused its only option – a sales tax. The board now hopes to have voters consider the increase with an immediate special election.

“We have the same challenges all other districts face,” Assistant Superintendent of Operations Michael Kemp said. “Old, worn out facilities in need of renovation and no funding. We have limited funding, and the funding we have is for restricted purposes and we can only use it for X. There’s an old saying: authority without capacity is futility. We have to have the capacity to be able to execute this mission and solve some of these problems.

“There’s never going to be a right time for this [sales tax], and that’s why probably why it’s not ever discussed. That doesn’t mean this challenge doesn’t remain.”

School board members Janice Kerekes, Tina Bullock and chairwoman Carol Studdard have been in favor of the increase since the measure first was discussed a month ago. While in favor of the sales tax, board members Mary Bolla and Ashley Gilhousen, were concerned the board was trying to beat the implementation of House Bill 5 at the end of the year that would require a proposed tax increase be part of the 2020 general election.

“The feedback we got from the public is it’s too much, too fast,” Gilhousen said during the board’s June 17 agenda review workshop. “I worry we’re rushing into this. What they’re going to accuse us of is what they accused us of last time: a lack of transparency.”

Gilhousen referred to a millage increase in 2018 that she was against because it also was rushed. She said she feels the same about the tax resolution.

Bolla agreed, saying she’d rather take extra time before a general election to effectively prove their needs to county residents.

“My greatest concern is that we educate the public,” Bolla said. “That way we don’t have just the concerned citizens joining us in this half cent sales tax but as many citizens as we can educate, and if it means going to this election in November 2020 and we have the opportunity for people to see that, yes, those needs will be met with half cent sales tax, [or] wait of a few months to make certain that we get as many citizens on board with us means a great deal.

“We’re planning ahead but I’d like to do it with integrity and forethought. I don’t want to kick the can down the road. We need this half cent sales tax. The question is when. When can we do this to the best of our ability?”

Kerekes proposed the vote for the tax be put into a special election since the district has immediate needs for the money.

A special election would have to be held before January to stay ahead of House Bill 5, Kerekes said.

School board attorney Bruce Bickner asked the board to sign the letter of request that would be forwarded to the Board of County Commissioners. If the BCC approves the special election at its next meeting, voters will decide whether the district will get the $300 million it needs to make repairs.

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