The Lee County School Board will move a proposed vote on a half-cent sales tax increase to November, the board voted in a special meeting on Monday.
On Jan. 23, the board had previously decided to move forward with a May special election that would allow Lee voters to decide on whether to add the half-cent to their sales tax for the next 10 years. But public backlash over the timing of the election, and the estimated $880,000 price tag, had the board move to November with the general election.
The special election would’ve needed approval from the Lee County Commission, approval which did not sound guaranteed by commissioners in January. The district was also potentially fighting the Florida Legislature, as a proposed bill moving through the chambers would require any sales tax referendum to be brought to voters in November.
“It’s a very, very complicated issue,” board member Cathleen Morgan said after the vote. “We were trying to get voters’ attention, it was clear that the county commission was not going to support us and the state Legislature was going to work against us, so here we are.”
If the referendum passes through voters, the tax will run from 2019 to 2028, and will about $55 to $58 million annually for the district, which it plans to use to fund new schools, renovations of existing schools, and other infrastructure improvements as the district struggles with a rapidly expanding school population.
A May special election was designed to make the district’s vote the sole issue on a ballot, The May vote was endorsed by the county’s teacher’s union. District officials initially feared that moving the vote to November would’ve caused the ballot measure to get “lost” in the longer general election ballot.
“Take the $880,000 out of the equation,” said member Mary Fischer. “We’re in a bad place because we have made lots of efforts to be fiscally responsible, however people don’t know about it and this is our chance to share that with the general public.”
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