Indian River County’s School Board filed suit Wednesday asking a state judge to order the County Commission to place a referendum on a property tax extension on the Aug. 18 primary ballot.
The emergency complaint for writ of mandamus asks Judge Janet Croom to order the commissioners to hold a meeting by June 4 and follow the School Board’s direction regarding the tax referendum.
The School Board voted to sue the County Commission on Tuesday (May 19) after the commissioners stuck by their decision to place the referendum on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
The School Board’s complaint asks Croom to determine whether which board has the final say on the timing of the referendum.
June 5 is deadline for submitting the ballot question to Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan, records show.
It will cost the School Board $20,000-to-$25,000 in legal fees to see the case to its conclusion.
The current four-year tax rate is due to expire June 30, 2021, records show. If voters approve, the extension will start July 1, 2021 and end June 30, 2025.
Commissioners Peter O’Brian, Bob Solari and Joe Flescher said they wanted the referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot because more than twice as many voters turn out for general elections than primary contests.
Commissioner Tim Zorc switched sides from his vote on May 11 and joined Commission Chairwoman Susan Adams in support of holding the referendum on Aug. 18.
Zorc, whose wife Laura is the School Board chairman, said he changed his mind after his research showed general election voters frequently focus on the offices at the top of the ballot and skip the rest.
Voters originally approved the property tax rate in the Aug. 30, 2016 primary with 64.26 percent approving, elections records show.
The tax provided $9.4 million in 2019, records show.
The owner of a house with a taxable value of $250,000 pays an extra $125 per year in property taxes as a result of the optional school tax rate.
If voters were to approve the tax extension on Aug. 18 as the school year is starting, Superintendent of Schools David Moore said he could still negotiate multi-year contracts with perennial venders and save $200,000 annually.
But if he won’t know until November whether he’ll get the tax money, Moore said he would have to opt for more costly one-year deals.