November 13, 2020 12:00pm

Jacksonville's power brokers agree half-cent sales tax for school should help lagging buildings

Many blame local politicians for delays in getting referendum to voters

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By Drew Dixon
Jacksonville, FL Correspondent
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The Power Poll survey about the half-cent sales tax increase approved by voters this month to help pay for Duval County school improvements shows Jacksonville’s power players are in equal agreement for the most part about the meaning of the measure.

When it comes to the biggest urgency for the money that will be raised by the sales tax increase, 84.3% of the respondents said upgrades to existing facilities are the most important thing the funds should be used for. That includes infrastructure improvements for existing school buildings, air conditioning overhauls and security upgrades among other needs that should be addressed first.

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While funds raised from the sales tax hike are expected to help pay for $1.9 billion in schools projects in the coming decades, only 9.4% of respondents said building three new high schools should get priority and only 3.1% said elementary schools should be prioritized. One person who took the poll said they aren’t sure or had no opinion.

One respondent, Daryle Scott, the founder of Venus Swimwear company in Jacksonville, said he definitely supported the half-cent sales tax increase for schools. But he still is wary of how the funding will be spent.

“I voted for the increase but I do not trust that the money will go to the schools,” Scott said in the Power Poll comment section. “Florida added the lottery that was for the schools but all the politicians did was divert other money away from schools, so net-net the schools still did not improve.”

The sales tax increase referendum received overwhelming support by the voters during the Nov. 3 election. Most respondents, or 81.2% of those taking part in the poll, said they were not surprised at the heavy backing by voters. About 9.1% said they were surprised at the support. Still, another 6.3% said they were surprised support wasn’t more intense and 3.1% said they were perplexed at the support because local residents already pay taxes for schools.

The sales tax referendum took years of wrangling among Jacksonville leaders, administrators and politicians before the measure appeared on the ballot. Respondents were somewhat split on who to blame for the delays as 50% said local politicians such as the Jacksonville City Council and mayor did what they could to delay the vote.

Another 34.4% said no one’s really to blame for any delays. It’s a tax increase and the community should proceed slowly and cautiously before going to a vote. Another 3.1% said it’s the Duval County School Board’s fault while 12.5% said they had no opinion or were not sure.

Power Poll email surveys were sent to 192 movers and shakers in Jacksonville between Nov. 9 and Nov. 12. Some 32 people responded to the poll for a response rate of 16.67%.

Thanks for participating in our third Power Poll for Jacksonville. Look for the next Power Poll of Jacksonville's elite leaders in early December. 

Drew Dixon is a local journalist who has been covering Jacksonville issues since the early 1990s.

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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