School district already looking how, where to spend money raised by new sales tax

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 11/18/20

CLAY COUNTY – Voters overwhelmingly decided on Nov. 3 the county’s school district needed a half-cent sales tax. Now that it’s a reality, the district is hard at work preparing for what the …

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School district already looking how, where to spend money raised by new sales tax

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – Voters overwhelmingly decided on Nov. 3 the county’s school district needed a half-cent sales tax. Now that it’s a reality, the district is hard at work preparing for what the money can fix or buy.

The half-cent sales tax will bring in an expected $13 million a year, but it will only cost the average family of four about $5 or a month, or $60 a year. That’s still an amount that has naysayers worried. The worry comes less from the amount of money and more from how it’s going to be used, with many saying this tax will be used to line the pockets of school board members and others. School administrators are adamant: that’s not the case, and it never was. The tax is a facility infrastructure restricted sales tax.

“It’s a facility infrastructure restricted sales tax,” Coordinator of Planning, Government, Relations, and Safety and Security Supervisor James Fossa said. “It will not be used for salaries, ever. It can only be related to infrastructure whether that’s deferred maintenance or new schools.”

That latter point is especially important because the half-cent sales tax guarantees the district will be able to build its projected schools in order to keep up with the county’s growth. The district would have been looking at some large bonds and loans to do that had the tax not been passed.

The additional tax increase will begin at the start of the new year. It will be an added cost to purchases at retail shops and other sales-tax subjected businesses. It won’t be something that will come on a tax bill.

Fossa said the school board will begin preparing for this money in the coming weeks and one big part of that preparation is the creation of a citizens’ oversight panel.

“The school board is going to workshop this very soon, but basically...the purpose will be for the panel to look at every project that comes before it to determine that it fits the letter of the law,” Fossa said. “The letter of the law is what’s outlined in the referendum the voters passed. This panel will make sure our projects fit what that referendum said because we can’t use this money for anything outside of that referendum description.”

The projects will be something planned out each year in the district’s annual five-year plan. It will be part of the Educational Facilities Plan, which is where Fossa, assistant superintendent of operations Bryce Ellis, who Fossa said is the mastermind behind all of this, and others will present to the school board and the residents of Clay County what the next five years of projects, maintenance and fixes look like on paper. This plan will guide the district in its spending.

Fossa said that despite the five-year plan, there’s leeway for emergency fixes. If a roof falls in at a classroom, that is quite obviously a fix that needs to be made immediately. While that specific fix might not be in the plan, the district will still have the power to use funds to fix the roof.

“We’re so proud of the county for passing this and proud of the work that everyone’s put into this,” Fossa said. “The folks of Clay County should rest easy because we’re going to take care of the students and staff in our schools. Teachers have always done a great job at making sure our kids got the education they needed, but we kind of dropped the ball in giving them facilities.

“Now, because of this half-cent sales tax, we can give them the first-class facilities these students need and deserve.”

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