‘Déjà vu’: Jacksonville City Council approves another school tax referendum
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The 14-5 vote seals the deal for Duval voters.

Duval County property owners may be paying more property tax soon, and the School Board urges them to consider the bigger spend as an investment in the future.

The Jacksonville City Council authorized by a 14-5 vote an August referendum (2022-213) to raise property taxes by one mill for the next four years.

The Duval County School Board estimates this could give them $82 million per annum in new cashflow, which could be used to pay veteran teachers and upgrade arts and athletics facilities.

Ahead of the vote, employees of public schools and charter public schools made their case. And General Counsel Jason Teal was clear when he said the Council “shall be directed” to put the referendum on the ballot and that state law “compels” the Council to do so. The hard sell was necessary, given the Rules Committee approved the bill by a one-vote majority.

“It seems like déjà vu,” observed Republican Council President Terrance Freeman.

And indeed it was, with Council members pained to distance themselves from endorsing the tax hike but voting the bill through anyway.

Republican Danny Becton, a candidate for Duval County Property Appraiser, said the economy was a “disaster … making basic things difficult to afford,” with rents and interest rates spiking.

“We have already passed a sales tax increase,” Becton noted.

Democrat Reggie Gaffney made the affirmative case to “invest in our kids” and “invest in our teachers,” necessary to compete with surrounding areas.

Republican Randy DeFoor, a lawyer, affirmed the strict interpretation of the ministerial duty of the Council to vote the measure through, and committed to vote for the measure, clearing the way for other people saying more or less the same thing.

“We have no discretion in this,” said LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber, a candidate for Mayor and a Republican.

But not everyone was up on the bill.

“I wasn’t elected by OGC. I was elected by my constituents,” groused Republican Aaron Bowman.

Mayoral candidate Al Ferraro was “sad” that the teachers hadn’t gotten taken care of, but suggested the only time the school district brought up issues was “when there’s a tax coming through.”

Ferraro said he wasn’t “really sure what they’re doing” with their capital sales tax proceeds, and added that he believes the money is already “there.”

“To say we can’t make a decision because we’re worried about a lawsuit, that’s the wrong message to send,” said Ferraro, also down on the bill.

This tax is proposed at a time when housing values are surging in Duval County, a confluence of a hot jobs market and a surge in people relocating to Jacksonville, so the $82 million estimate could ultimately be conservative.

This will be the second school tax referendum in recent years. A referendum in 2020 for a new half-cent sales tax for school improvements in Duval County got through, but not without delay.

A push for that referendum in 2019 failed because charter schools weren’t guaranteed their per pupil share. But once that obstacle was removed by state law demanding a charter carveout, the school tax sailed to approval, with 67% of the vote in November 2020.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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