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Lee County School Board withdraws plan for sales tax special election

February 6, 2018
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Lee County School Board held a special meeting Monday to withdraw its decision to hold a special election in May for a half penny sales tax. The Lee County Commission unanimously approved the school board's request to place this vote on the November General Election ballot.

The board's controversial decision to hold a special election drew immense backlash from the community, which led the board members to reconsider their assessment. The board voted 5-1 to change the decision at the superintendent's recommendation.

"At this time, I recommend the school board adopt a replacement resolution to place the schools tax referendum on the Nov. 6, 2018, General Election ballot," Superintendent Greg Adkins said.

Florida House Bill 317 recently passed, and Senate Bill 372 is currently being considered. These companion bills in the state legislature will force all local tax referendums to be placed on a November ballot. This process is rapidly approaching and will be effective immediately once Gov. Rick Scott signs the House bill.

This half penny sales tax is projected to bring in $59 million a year over the next 10 years for the school district. This money will go toward capital improvements such as technology upgrades, safety improvements and the building of seven new schools, as well as the rebuilding of two existing schools.

After hearing the evident backlash from the local community for the decision to hold a special election, members of the school board said they felt it was necessary to listen to the community.

"There has been clear push-back from the public regarding a special election, the overwhelming majority of people who reached out to me did not want a special election," Chris Patricca, school board member, said. "At the same time, the overwhelming majority of people who reached out to me have expressed support to the underlying tax."

However, there are still residents who oppose this sales tax. Joseph Doyle, a resident of Naples, attended the meeting and voiced his disapproval for the proposed sales tax.

"I'd like to congratulate you on moving it to the General Election and not spending nearly $900,000 on a special referendum," Doyle said. "But I'm still against the sales tax. You missed the opportunity to raise your impact fees two years ago when Collier County raised their's and that's money that you lost and that's too bad."

Most of the backlash voiced to the school board members was regarding their decision to hold a special election. Patricca expressed her aspiration to better educate and communicate with the local community to resolve future issues.

"Goal two of Vision 2020 is to increase family and community engagement and I don't know how we increase family and community engagement if we don't listen when they're reaching out to us," she said.



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