Last September, Florida Daily reported that several local school districts were pushing for voter-approved sales tax referendums to help fund schools. Now one of the largest counties in the state is “keeping their options open,” including looking at other sources of revenue including raising property taxes.
Duval County residents will be voting on a half-cent sales tax increase in November as the school district insists it will need $2 billion over the next 10 to 15 years for maintenance, repairs and new schools.
But, according to the district’s own numbers, the proposed half-cent sales tax increase will only generate $1.2 billion over that time.
“The school board hasn’t been honest with us about the numbers since day one,” said Jacksonville City Councilman Rory Diamond.
Diamond opposes the sales tax increase. “If the school district needs $2 billion, but the tax will only raise $1.2 billion, then where is the rest of the money coming from?” asked Diamond, pointing to a property tax increase as the main alternative source of revenue.
Duval County School Board Member Lori Hershey, who is running for reelection in District 7, said in March 2019 that there are other options to raise revenue for schools besides raising the local sales tax, including impact fees.
As he continues his challenge to Hershey, former Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg said she isn’t telling voters everything.
“Hershey and the school board will look to raise your property taxes,” Schellenberg said. “They know this and they won’t admit it because they know it’s not a popular issue among voters.”
Schellenberg pointed out that the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF), which is pushing the sales tax increase, has admitted that a property tax hike is on the table.
“What other funding sources could we pursue for public schools?” JPEF asks on its website. “Alternative funding sources, such as a millage (property tax) increase, could be used for other purposes.”
Schellenberg said the JPEF is backing Hershey. He added that if the school district wants to raise taxes, they need to inform voters what they did with previous funds, a point on which Diamond agreed.
“The school board asked voters to raise the sales tax 10 years ago,” Diamond said. “Now they want their hand out again.”
Reach Ed Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org.