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Clay EDC Board of Directors Support One-Cent Sales Tax

Clay EDC Board of Directors Support One-Cent Sales Tax

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay County voters will get to have a say in determining their quality of life when they head to the voting booths for the Aug. 30 primary.

The Board of County Commissioners Tuesday voted 4-1, with Commissioner Ronnie Robinson opposing, to place a ballot item allowing voters to extend for 20 years the current one-cent sales surtax that is on the books.


“The one-cent sales tax gives us the opportunity to think very expansively and long-term about Clay County. It all really goes back to quality of life,” said George Egan, chief executive officer of the Reinhold Corp.

Egan was one of nine speakers who approached the podium June 14 to voice support for the tax, which has generated more than $290 million since its first approval in 1990. In the past, the surtax had funded such big ticket items as the Fleming Island Headquarters Library, the four-laning of Henley Road, youth sports venues and other capital projects. As it was last extended, the current tax is set to December 31, 2019 if not extended again.

To the board of directors of the Clay County Economic Development Corp., extending the sales tax is vital to continue to make the county competitive as a place companies wish to locate high-skill, high-wage jobs.

“Be it resolved the board of directors of the Clay County Economic Development Corp. does hereby support the extension of the one-cent optional sales surtax in order to retain a reliable source of revenue to fund Capital Improvement Projects which are critical to supporting the continued growth and expansion of Clay County’s economy, and Clay County’s unique and high quality of life,” read CCEDC President Bill Garrison from a resolution by the organization’s board.

Luis Torres, executive director of the Clay County Soccer Club, spoke out supporting the tax because he said it helps changes the lives of Clay County children by providing places to take part in healthy sporting activities.

“I advocate the tax because of the personal things I’ve seen and have witnessed and the benefits that youth sports brings to the children in Clay County and the board has graciously supported our efforts to grow our club,” Torres said.

When BCC members set the public hearing, they first set out to obtain public input about whether the tax should be extended for 30 years, but at least two speakers Tuesday suggested a 30-year tax may be a hard sell in this year’s contentious election environment.

“A lot of citizens will support this if it were scaled back to 15 years,” said Brenda Kicsak of Fleming Island.

Under terms established by previous boards of county commissioners, the penny sales tax is divided proportionally among the various government entities in Clay County, as well as the Clay County School District. The BCC keeps 88 percent of the tax revenue to spend on capital projects. Both mayors of Green Cove Springs and Orange Park attended the public hearing and spoke in support of the measure, however, no one from the school district attended.

“Speaking of the school district, is there anyone here from the school district?” asked Chairman Diane Hutchings. “That’s interesting.”

Before taking a vote on whether the tax should be extended for 30 or 20 years, commissioners took part in a debate amongst themselves. The majority of commissioners supported the concept of the tax, however, Robinson said he was going to vote against the measure because he remains opposed to how a previous bond was handled by the county. He said the county had an outstanding $90 million bond on which is pays $9 million a year in principal and interest.

If not passed, commissioners discussed the reality of having to hike property taxes to fund such necessities as roads, police and fire equipment and other facilities, such as a new county animal shelter.

“I do feel that there’s not a question of anyone not wanting their property taxes to go up, because that’s exactly what we would have to do is we’d have to hit the ceiling on every front with property taxes and you’re putting all of the burden of the cost of government on the back of the people that own property, so that’s about as inequitable as it can get and that’s the alternative,” Hutchings said.

In terms of the sales tax, Hutchings said sales taxes are more equitable because they get to be paid by everyone who comes to Clay County, not just the homeowners and other residents who live here.

“The one-cent, to me, is probably one of the fairest taxes, I think, in terms of local government and I’m not just thinking about this board, I’m speaking about boards before I came on have been very diligent with making sure that they were wise in their decisions,” Hutchings said.

In the middle of the commissioners’ discussion, County Manager Stephanie Kopelousos made a heartfelt plea intended to urge attendees to think about the future needs of Clay County.

“This is about our community. It’s going to take all of us standing together and if people have a concern about it, then we need to talk to them and understand that and work through those concerns because this is about the future of Clay County.

“We have this beltway coming and it’s going to bring growth whether we’re excited about it or not. It gives an opportunity to keep our community the way we want it and to plan ahead,” Kopelousos said.

As approved, the ballot item will be placed on the Aug. 30 primary ballot asking voters to extend the tax to 2039. Kopelousos said the county preferred to place the item on the August ballot because the November ballot will contain a large number of state referendum items that push all local questions to the bottom of the ballot.

County officials, she said, will be available to conduct meetings and give presentations between now and Aug. 30 to explain the benefits of the tax. She even offered her cell phone number to attendees and web and TV viewers.

“We may disagree on the timing on it, but I hope we can all stand together and say this is important to our community and I say to all of you, feel free to give my cellphone number out if people have a concern because I think when people see what we’ve spent it on, and what the future is,” Kopelousos said.

In other business:

Commissioners voted 5-0 to reject a proposal to convert a mobile home park on Doctors Lake Drive to a recreational vehicle park on grounds it was not compatible with the neighborhood. In discussing the issue while agreeing to “defer to my district commissioner [Hutchings represents Doctors Lake Drive],” Commissioner Wendell Davis pointed out that the land in question could alternatively be developed into 96 homes, therefore, creating even more of the similar concerns of congestion and road traffic raised by area residents opposing the RV park.

Commissioners discussed whether or not to direct county staff to amend a county ordinance prohibiting furniture, such as tents and tables, from being erected at polling places during upcoming and future elections. Currently, under state law candidates are prohibited within a 100 foot buffer from voting sites, while a county ordinance prohibits signs and other paraphernalia on any part of polling place grounds.

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The Clay Florida Economic Development Corporation provides concierge service for companies who want to re-invest in expansion in the county or relocate their companies to the region.

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  • Address: 1845 Town Center Blvd., Suite 110-B, Fleming Island, FL 32003

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