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Council’s Finance Committee Wants To Punt The Half-Cent Sales Tax Referendum to 2020

Jacksonville City Hall

A group of Jacksonville lawmakers recommended Tuesday the City Council punt the Duval School Board’s proposed half-cent sales tax referendum to next year.

The Finance Committee unanimously backed an amendment to put the question before voters in the fall of 2020, instead of holding the November 10 special election requested by the school board. Meanwhile, the Rules Committee voted 5-2 to defer making a decision on the referendum to next month, which is when the next City Council takes office.

The district says it needs nearly $2 billion dollars to overhaul its aging facilities, which are among the oldest in Florida. The half-cent increase is projected to raise at least $1.3 billion dollars over 15 years.

Related:‘Bold Plan’ For DCPS: Superintendent Greene Proposes Alternate Fix For Aging Facilities

“I believe the plan is a poorly executed, really good idea,” said Councilman Greg Anderson, who chairs the Finance Committee. “And I think we need more time.”

He questioned whether the district had the operational capacity to accomplish “something of this magnitude” and if the plan would achieve the desired result.

Anderson said he wants the Council to work closely with the school board to ensure the plan will financially succeed and will have enough community support, before putting the question before voters.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer, who’s leaving the Council to head the Downtown Investment Authority, put forth a motion to defer making a decision on the referendum until next month. She was joined by Anderson and outgoing Councilman Bill Gulliford, who said the community has a very strong anti-tax sentiment.

“You’ve got one shot,” said Gulliford, who urged the board to slow down and try to build a community consensus. “So what happens if this thing doesn’t pass?”

The motion to defer the decision was struck down by a vote of 3-4 in the Finance Committee.

Proponents of holding the special election this November, like Superintendent Diana Greene, say the district is already spending $500,000 a month in maintenance and waiting until next year will only exacerbate the problem. Others, like board member Warren Jones, have said the board has answers to the City Council’s questions.

‘We’ve been working on this thing since last year. We’ve had almost 20 hearings. We vetted it with our communities,” said Warren, during the Finance Committee hearing. “And we just ask that you give the voters an opportunity to be heard.”

Despite the pushback from City Council and Mayor Lenny Curry, the referendum has been getting substantial public support.

Last week, nearly 70 residents attended a public hearing to urge the City Council to allow the sales tax vote in November. Among those who lobbied the City Council were Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, and state Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. Gibson spoke again at the Finance Committee to voice her support.

The Duval Democratic Party Thursday put out a statement in favor of the half-cent sales tax, as did the The Northeast Florida Builders Association (NEFAR).

Nancy Garcia, Government Affairs Director at NEFAR, said she’s concerned that Duval is losing families to other counties.     

“It impacts our values in our neighborhoods. Again, we lose families every day to surrounding counties,” she said. “It’s our number one issue.”

The proposed November 5 election is expected to cost between $700,000 and $1.4 million, according to the district. That money would come from the Duval County Public Schools budget.

The rules and finance committees’ amendments are scheduled to be before the full City Council is expected to vote on the proposal June 25. That is the last City Council meeting of the fiscal year.

Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, or on Twitter at @abukaradan17

Abukar Adan is a former WJCT reporter who left the station for other pursuits in August 2019.