TAX RELIEF; Building Credibility

Article excerpt

An interesting set of meetings took place Tuesday at the Duval County School Board headquarters.

The meetings illustrated the importance of being wise stewards of the taxpayers' money.

At 9:30 a.m., the mayor, City Council president and various school officials and business leaders held a press conference to oppose Amendment 1, the proposal to reduce property taxes.

School officials say the proposal, if passed by the required 60 percent, would cost them $74 million over five years. Though the governor has promised to hold public schools harmless, there is reason to be skeptical over the long term.

SEVERE IMPACT

Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals said the revenue cuts would be a "devastating loss." This comes at a time that Duval County pays teachers on average $5,000 less than in Georgia, he said.

Mayor John Peyton said the cuts are "fiscally irresponsible" and opposed by such watchdogs as Florida TaxWatch. Education is the long-term solution to Jacksonville's stressed per capita income levels, he said.

City Council President Daniel Davis noted that Jacksonville has consistently cut its millage rate.

Preston Haskell, speaking for the businessmen in the Alliance for World Class Education, noted that the property tax proposal distorts a tax system that already penalizes renters, small businesses and new homeowners.

Terri Brady, speaking for Duval Teachers United, said that Florida ranks near the bottom among the states for teacher pay, yet the class- size amendment is putting strains on school systems.

All in all, a convincing case was made against the amendment.

Will the voters believe them? When compared to other cities and counties in Florida, Jacksonville certainly is a model of efficiency by most standards.

Yet, there are enough examples of fiscal mismanagement to raise concerns from the public.

One example: the new offices for the part-time School Board members at the administration building. That was a symbolic nightmare, a public relations disaster.

Promoted by former Superintendent Joseph Wise, and approved by the board, it sent a message that funds weren't scarce. …

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