School sales tax to be on the ballot at the same time as county’s penny sales tax

File photo: Marion District Schools school buses are shown at the Marion County Public Schools Northwest Transportation Bus Facility on Northwest Gainesville Road in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, February 9, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

Home » Education
Posted February 28, 2024 | By Caroline Brauchler

When Marion County voters cast their ballots this fall, they’ll have two tax increases to decide on—one for funding new schools and another for funding new roads.

A half-cent boost to the county’s 7% sales tax to help the county’s school system will be placed on the November general election ballot. The revenue from the tax is intended to fund capital projects, such as building new schools and constructing new wings for existing schools, for the school district and is proposed for a 10-year period.

Also on the ballot will be the Marion County Commission’s request to continue its increase to the sales tax by a full penny to fund infrastructure and public safety—most notably, for a number of major road projects to help ease traffic as Marion County grows.

School district staff has recommended that five new schools and nine new wings to existing schools need to be constructed over the next 15 years to keep pace with the county’s population growth. The cost for this new construction, in addition to necessary maintenance and renovations to other schools, is estimated to be about $1.8 billion, $1 billion of which currently is unfunded.

“I think the data has shown that we need a half-cent (increase in the) sales tax on the next ballot, and I would recommend that to be for the 2024 ballot for long term,” said Superintendent Diane Gullett when the school board decided to pursue the tax.

Voters approved a sales tax for schools in 2004, which expired in 2009. The district has collected $111,164,680 in revenue from the tax since 2004, including in interest from 2010 until the present.

Marion County currently has a combined state and county sales tax of 7%. If voters approve a half-cent sales tax for schools, the tax will be added to the existing tax. The county’s penny sales tax for infrastructure and public safety, first approved by voters in 2016, will also be on the 2024 general election ballot to continue the tax for a term of 20 years.


The school half-cent sales tax will appear on the ballot for voters to approve as follows:

School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax to Improve Safety and the Learning Environment

To retain high-quality teachers, reduce classroom overcrowding, and improve safety and security by expanding, constructing, and improving school facilities, with collected revenues shared according to Florida law with eligible public charter schools based on their proportion of total school district enrollment, with oversight by an independent volunteer committee, shall the school district of Marion County levy a one-half cent sales surtax for ten years to fund such activities for Marion County schools?


The measure was written by School Board Attorney Jeremy Powers, County Attorney Guy Minter, the school board and attorney Reggie Bouthillier.

“Everyone who follows education knows that there’s just a critical shortage of educators all around,” said School Board Chair Nancy Thrower. “If you have teachers who are teaching only in portables with terrible lighting and holes in the carpet, any teacher is probably going to be thinking, ‘Where’s the funding for public education?’”

Some county commissioners have expressed concerns about the timing of the school board’s sales tax ballot question, saying that having both tax increases before voters at the same time could mean one or both could be voted down.

“At a basic level, having one tax at a time is probably something that the county would have preferred, and I can understand that,” Thrower said. “However, I also understand that we’re in dire need and (the county is) in dire need. There are certainly a lot of projects that they need to have funding for.”

When the school board’s request to include the tax increase on the ballot came before the county commission, the commission agreed to do so out of “administrative responsibility,” Commission Chair Michelle Stone said.

“We don’t want the public to think that we are making this request on (the school board’s) behalf because that is not the intent of this board,” said Stone.

That, in addition to the language of the ballot measure proposed by the school board, gave the county commission pause when discussing it.

Commissioner Carl Zalak expressed issue with the language used, saying that it is misleading to include “to retain high quality teachers” as a purpose, given that the half-cent sales tax for schools can only be used for capital projects such as new schools or constructing new wings on existing schools.

“You can’t fund police officers and firefighters with our (penny) sales tax, but the school board says, ‘This is to retain high quality teachers.’ That’s an educational element that they can take on themselves. I’m just pointing it out,” Zalak said.

The county’s penny sales tax was first approved in 2016 and increased Marion County’s sales tax from 6% to 7%, then renewed in 2020 for another four-year period. Now, the county asks for voters to approve the tax for the next 20 years.

If passed by voters, the penny sales tax is projected to generate about $65 million a year, 70% of which will go toward road and infrastructure projects and the other 30% toward public safety needs.

The county engineer has put forward a list of 27 road projects to be funded by the penny sales tax over the next 20 years and would cost upward of $1.4 billion—$1.1 billion of which needs funding. That shortfall could be filled by the penny sales tax revenue.

Rather than passing a resolution in favor of the school board’s half-cent sales tax, the county commission instead voted to hand off the measure to Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox to place it on the ballot.

“The school board can’t ask. They can ask the BOCC to direct me to put it on the ballot, but the school board can’t directly ask me,” Wilcox said.

Additionally, Wilcox said his office has no guidelines for how items are presented on the ballot, and that the school board may phrase their request to voters in whatever way they deem fit.

“I’ll read through it to see if there are any grammatical errors. (I’ll check) if there’s a word spelled wrong or something like that,” he said. “Other than that, with the actual text of it, that’s their choice.”

Marion County is currently seeing 200 new residents per week, a fact that Commissioner Craig Curry emphasized when discussing the coming expansion of Interstate 75.

Regardless of the two governmental bodies’ differing opinions, they share one common denominator of a problem—growth. Marion County is projected to see explosive growth in the coming years, which can’t be handled without funding for schools, infrastructure and public safety alike.

newspaper icon

Support community journalism

The first goal of the Ocala Gazette is to deliver trustworthy local journalism so corruption, misinformation and abuse are not hidden from the public or unchallenged.

We count on community support to continue this important work. Please donate or subscribe: