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Your questions, answered!

The half-cent for Alachua County Schools prides itself on transparency.

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What would the money from the half-cent sales tax be used for?
Most of the revenues from the half-cent would be used to revitalize our existing schools. That includes safety and security improvements; renovating and remodeling classrooms, science labs, media centers and other spaces; replacing and repairing deteriorating roofs, air conditioners and other items; replacing portables with permanent classrooms; and other improvements to our existing schools.

A smaller portion of the revenues would be used to create space for the additional students who are expected to enroll in our schools in the next ten years and beyond and for those who are attending already-overcrowded schools.

Ultimately the goal is to ensure that we have a safe, healthy and high-quality learning environment for all Alachua County Public School students.

Why can’t the district just use the money it already has?

That’s the issue. State leaders in Tallahassee have made drastic cuts to school facilities funding over the last ten years. Here in Alachua County, we’ve lost about $168 million in facilities dollars since the 2007-08 school year. In the meantime our schools are getting older, and they’re in desperate need of major repairs and renovation.

Haven’t our school taxes already been going up?

Actually, the school property tax rate in Alachua County has gone down for each the last four years and for eight of the last nine years. In fact, the owners of a home that was valued at $125,000 back in 1998 are paying just $14 more a year in school taxes today than they were twenty years ago.

What happened to the lottery? Wasn’t that supposed to provide schools with extra money?

That’s certainly how it was sold to voters back in 1986. Instead, state leaders have used lottery money to replace funding from other, more stable sources.

Today only a small fraction of lottery money goes to K-12 education, and almost all of it is used to pay off construction bonds passed about twenty years ago.

Some years the state will provide districts with a small amount of money called ‘discretionary lottery’ funding. This year the district received about $50,000. There have been a number of years in which there was no money provided.

What happens if the sales tax isn’t approved?

Without those additional funds, our schools will continue to deteriorate. The district will have to keep putting off major maintenance and repair projects and focus on temporary ‘patches.’ Unfortunately that tends to cost more in the long run. In the meantime, our students would continue to attend schools with leaking roofs, air conditioning that often fails, insufficient bathrooms and other maintenance problems. Elementary lunch times would continue to start before 10 a.m. because our cafeterias are not big enough. We also could not ‘harden’ our schools to best promote the safety of students, staff and visitors.

And of course, we would not be able to create the up-to-date, high-quality learning environments our families and community expect and our students need if they are to be successful in this complex and ever-changing world.

How much will the sales tax cost me?

It’s estimated that the sales tax will cost the average Alachua County household about $60 a year.

One of the benefits of a sales tax is that 25-35% of it will actually be paid for by out-of-county visitors—people coming for football games or Gatornationals, for example.

Necessities like food and medicine will continue to be exempt from the sales tax. There’s also a cap on sales tax collections for big ticket items, like a car. You would pay the half-cent only on the first $5000 of the price, which means the most you would pay in additional sales taxes for any item would be $25.

Right now the sales tax in Alachua County is 6.5%. The half-cent would bring it up to 7%, which is the current rate in all nine surrounding counties. If approved by voters, the additional tax would last for 12 years.

How do I know the money will be spent the way it should be?

The ballot language requires that an independent citizens’ oversight committee review all expenditures from the half-cent sales tax to ensure that the revenues are being spent as the voters intended.

I don’t have children or grandchildren in the district. Why should I pay more to support local schools?

We all benefit from strong schools. There are, of course, economic advantages. Good schools attract new residents, businesses and jobs, which all boost the local economy. They also increase property values.

If the sales tax passes, it will also create hundreds of local, private-sector jobs. There will be a lot of work for the carpenters, electricians, roofers, plumbers and other professionals who will actually be working to improve our schools.

Ultimately, however, the primary goal of the sales tax initiative is to better prepare Alachua County’s young people to be engaged and productive members of our community and society. In the future we will be relying on them to provide the vital products and services we use every day, to come up with the breakthroughs that will make our lives better. It’s to our advantage to ensure they’re ready for that challenge by investing in people, programs and places of learning.

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