GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Clay County School Board voted to ask the county commission to put a half-cent sales tax on the November 2020 general election.
The school board recently failed in court to force a special election to raise $318 million for school maintenance. The new vote to push the referendum to 2020 was 5-0.
“When the judge ruled on the sales tax, he said the county commissioners shall place it on the ballot and set the date,” chairwoman Carol Studdard said. “I abide by the judge’s ruling and obey the law. That’s the way things are supposed to be done.
“My thought is, is that we have the judge’s ruling and it’s time for Clay County to come together. It disturbs me greatly to see animosity between the BCC and the school board. We don’t need that in Clay County. We are all better than that.”
Studdard then addressed commissioner Diane Hutchings, who was at the meeting, and told her she hopes both groups will work together. Studdard said the school board eventually abided by the BCC’s original request to have the voters decide it in 2020.
The school board was trying to get ahead of House Bill 5 which will outlaw taxation referendums during a special election. The bill goes into effect on Jan. 1.
The board was in favor of Studdard’s new 2020 resolution, although some were happier than others. Board member Ashley Gilhousen, who was openly opposed to the special election, said she’d happily approved a move to the general election. When Gilhousen ran in 2014, part of her platform was the district’s need for funding to fix more than $300 million in maintenance needs.
Board member Janice Kerekes was disappointed the board will have to wait 14 months to get it in front of the voters.
“I’m in agreement, too,” Kerekes said. “I mean, we’ve all said from the beginning that we need a sales tax and I’m extremely disappointed that we’re not able to go forward with it this year. We just have such dire needs right now that it saddens me, we’re not looking at collecting (money) this January (as a result of what would have been a special election). We’re waiting an entire year now.”
Kerekes held hope until a week ago she could the sales tax increase referendum on a special election ballot.
“I just want to say that I put it on because I believe in public education and I’m willing to fight for it and through the judge’s order, I felt that this was one way to possibly hold a special election and still have the half-cent sales tax put on it,” she said.
Kerekes said Supervisor of Election Chris Chambless said there wouldn’t be enough time to set up a special election.
The resolution will now go to the BCC. If the BCC approves the school board’s request, school district staff will prepare an educational tour starting in January that will run up until the election. The tour, which will consist of town hall meetings throughout the county, will serve to educate the public on why the district needs a half-cent sales tax.
The BCC will discuss this item during their Sept. 24 regular meeting.