School board wrestles with half-cent sales tax option to fill $300 million improvement gap

By Wesley LeBlanc Staff Writer
Posted 6/12/19

FLEMING ISLAND – With nearly $300 million in facility improvements needed in 41 schools, the Clay County School Board is considering a half-cent sales tax increase.

The board discussed not only …

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School board wrestles with half-cent sales tax option to fill $300 million improvement gap

Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – With nearly $300 million in facility improvements needed in 41 schools, the Clay County School Board is considering a half-cent sales tax increase.

The board discussed not only the option of building a new kindergarten-through-eighth grade school to relieve the growing pressure on Paterson Elementary, but acquiring funding to begin tackling the district’s $300 million of fixes. According to school board member Janice Kerekes, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Michael Kemp said the board can’t use a bond to cover these costs, so their only option for funding is through a sales tax.

“So, at the agenda review last week, all five board members seemed to be in support of going out on a sales tax,” Kerekes said. “If we were all in agreement to go forward with it at this point, if we went forward with it before December of 2019 when the new House Bill 5 goes into effect, we wouldn’t have to hold out for a general election in order to do it. We could have a special election.

“Remember, if it passes, that still means it’s a whole year until we start collecting any revenue,” Kerekes said.

House Bill 5, which will go into effect next January, will prevent referendums for changing the sales tax in a special election. Those are only allowed in general elections every two years. That’s why Kerekes said she’d like to see the board quickly decide on it.

The board was not set to decide during the June 6 meeting on the half-cent sales tax increase. Each board member liked the option, but despite Kerekes’s prepared motion, they decided to push it to a later meeting.

“I don’t like how this is on our agenda because I feel like it’s a little bit misleading,” board member Ashley Gilhousen said. “If we’re going to vote on a sales tax initiative, but it’s on the agenda as a Fleming Island K-8 school, then it looks like we’re going out for a sales tax to fund this project and a sales tax, as you said, would benefit the entire county so I don’t really want to vote on it as this agenda item.”

Kerekes said her proposed motion wouldn’t have locked the school board into a specific plan. It instead would direct the Superintendent Addison Davis to prepare for a special election this year.

If passed, the board make assurances the half-cent sales tax couldn’t be used for salaries. It can only be used on capital improvements like the $300 million infrastructure needs. The sales tax would fund would be line-itemed for everyone to see.

“There would be no question as to what this money is being spent on because it’s a line-by-line item,” Gilhousen said. “Every cent we collect is accounted for. That’s why I feel like we need more time to get this message and information out to the public.”

The board asked Davis to look into the sales tax option. Specifically, they tasked him with determining how much the half-cent sales tax would bring in each year, what a marketing plan would look like, the cost of the special election and how a similar tax has worked for similar school districts.

Essentially tabled for now, the half-cent sales tax is likely to be brought up at future meetings.

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