General counsel: Duval schools needs Jacksonville City Council approval to put sales tax on ballot

Half-cent sales tax debate continues

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The City of Jacksonville’s Office of General Council has issued a highly anticipated opinion on whether the Duval County School Board needs City Council approval to put a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot.

In the documents obtained from the city today, the General Council Jason Gabriel affirmed his office’s position that the School Board can not unilaterally put a sales tax question on the ballot, writing:

"It is the Council, and no other body, that is authorized to place the statement approved by the School Board on the ballot as a referendum. To best express the basic core of the opinion, let me use a layperson's example. Consider the following two sentences: (1) David shall place the slingshot on the table. (2) The slingshot shall be placed on the table by David. In the first example, David is commanded to place the slingshot on the table. In the second example, it is directed that David shall be the one to place the slingshot on the table, and no other, if it is to be placed on the table at all. The applicable statutory provision that has been a source of debate in this surtax matter is written in the identical syntax of the second statement. Shall means shall in either scenario, and one could say that David is the chosen one in either case. The only difference is that in one circumstance David must do something; in the other, David is the only one who can."

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Gabriel also asked the City Council to approve an emergency resolution seeking a formal opinion from the State Attorney General.

“In summary,” Gabriel wrote, “while it is the School Board that initiates the surtax proposition by approving a resolution that levies it, authorizes the statement and enacts a plan to carry it out, it is the Council that approves the referendum, as well as the timing as to when that ballot measure happens.”

Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan said in late July the decision to put the sales tax on the ballot this year would’ve had to have been made much earlier this year.  DCPS would have needed a legal decision in their favor 120-150 days before November’s election day, and that date has already passed.

Now, it appears the fight moves on to the question of whether a referendum will get on the ballot at all; with 2020 the next date outside of a possible, but unlikely special election.

On Wednesday, DCPS and City Council leaders will meet to discuss a way forward. Mayor Lenny Curry has already said he does not support the half-cent sales tax proposal as written, citing a need for more specificity on exactly how the money will be spent as a protection for taxpayers.

The sales tax, which would help repair or replace all 158 of Duval County’s school buildings, would help pay for the nearly $2 billion price tag. The updated Master Facilities plan was proposed by DCPS in mid-June. That plan has a 15-year timeline.

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