Community Leaders Launch Campaign for Extension of Half-Penny Tax

By: Eyewitness News Email
By: Eyewitness News Email

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- June 21, 2012 6:00 p.m. --

"What would our school system look like today if we would not have had this revenue?"

That's the question Leon County Schools Superintendent Jackie Pons posed to the crowd at Griffin Middle School.

That revenue is the millions of dollars generated from the half-penny sales tax passed in 2002. The tax is epxected to have generated 175 million dollars by the end of 2012. Pons and many others gathered to kick off a campaign to convince voters to renue the tax for the next 15 years.

"It goes a long way. It's almost 20 million dollars a year for 15 years to meet the needs of our students in our community," said Superintendent Pons.

The 2002 tax expires after this year. Voters did not have a problem voting for the tax a decade ago.

"There's no doubt that anybody who travels to the school system out here in Leon County can take a look and there's needs all over the place," said Shawn Roberts, a member of the Community Emergency Response Team who surveyed Leon County schools.

School systems across America have been hurt by budget cuts and Leon County schools are no exception. They have relied on the half-penny tax to provide some of the school funding. Some parents think it is a no brainer.

"It will pay for additional technology, tools the teachers need and the schools need to make sure our children have a better education," said parent Sharon Berrian.

The opposition may come from those without any ties to the school system.

"Typically folks don't like the word tax, there are certain things that are just important to our community and our children and our schools are one of them," said Roberts.

Leon County voters will decide on the tax in this November's election.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – June 21, 2012 -

Local community leaders today launched the Leon Alliance for Better County Schools (Leon ABCs) campaign to encourage voter support of extending the half-penny sales tax for Leon County public schools.

Leon ABCs, chaired by Steve Uhlfelder and vice-chair Harriet Williams, will focus on educating and reaching out to local voters to urge support for the 15-year sales tax extension, which has been placed on the November general election ballot by the Leon County Commission. The sales tax extension has received a unanimous endorsement by the Greater Tallahassee Chamber’s Board of Directors.

“The future of this community lies in the Leon County schools, and we all have a stake in making those schools as strong as possible,” said Uhlfelder. “The half-penny tax extension is vitally important for our school facilities to remain in safe condition, our students to learn with modern technology and our teachers to have the tools they need to do their jobs.”

In 2002, Leon County voters overwhelmingly passed the tax, and by the end of this year it will have provided $175 million for necessary improvements at every school in the county. The tax is sunsetting at the end of 2012. If the voters agree to extend the half-penny sales tax this year, the projected $256.9 million would support a wide variety of public school renovations and improvements, including construction, reconstruction, retrofitting, renovation, remodeling, land acquisition and improvement and the purchase of technology equipment, hardware and software for the Leon County School District.

“Like the rest of the state, our schools have been hit hard by limited resources for the past several years,” Williams said. “The existing half-penny sales tax has been crucial to properly maintaining our schools, and it is critically important that it continue, so that our schools – and our children – don’t fall behind.”

This campaign follows a detailed report by the Capital Improvements Review Team (CIRT), on behalf of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber and the local business community, chaired by Tallahassee Community College president Jim Murdaugh. The CIRT reviewed the school district’s recommendations for how the resources would be spent if the decade-old tax is extended for another 15 years. The teams, consisting of community experts and citizen volunteers, examined the Leon County school district’s needs in specific categories, including new construction and remodeling, transportation, technology, renovation, maintenance and finance.

“Everyone in the community knows what an incredible resource we have in Leon County schools,” Murdaugh said. “The schools are literally building the future leadership of our community, state and nation. The extension of this half-penny tax is needed and justified.”

After extensive research and many site visits, the CIRT members found that Leon County schools are in desperate need of repairs, and will require funding over the next 15 years to maintain existing facilities and equipment and make limited improvements.

“Businesses throughout Tallahassee and Leon County recognize the important role our schools play in the overall strength of this community,” said Bill Moor, chairman of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce. “Without the half-penny sales tax, our schools would not be able to produce the educated workforce we need to carry us forward into the future.”

The half-penny sales tax allows county taxpayers to meet school needs at a discount, since 30 percent of the tax dollars are paid from visitors to Leon County. It also encourages a “buy local” approach, as much of the construction work will be done by local contractors.

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