Voters renew half-cent surtax that funds critical school repairs, security upgrades

Brevard County voters decided Tuesday to extend a half-cent sales surtax that funds critical repairs to the county's aging public schools.

Voters approved the referendum by a nearly 37-point margin (68.47% to 31.53%) with all precincts reporting, renewing the surtax until 2026. The levy originally passed in 2014 by 16 percentage points, with nearly 58% of voters in favor of the tax.

"On behalf of our more than 70,000 students who make up Brevard Public Schools, and our over 9,000 employees, I just want to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the voters of Brevard who supported the extension of the sales tax for another six years," Superintendent Mark Mullins told FLORIDA TODAY.

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"It's an honor and a privilege to be part of a community that makes a priority of our schools, and ultimately our kids," Mullins said.

In a texted statement, School Board Chairwoman Misty Belford said she was "humbled and honored" by the results.

"On behalf of all of our students and staff, I thank our community immensely for supporting us to provide safe schools and upgraded technology for our students," she said. "We will continue to provide transparency and accountability so our community can see the difference their support makes."

The surtax adds 0.5% to the current Florida 6% sales tax and an additional 0.5% surtax used to fund Indian River Lagoon restoration, for a total local sales tax of 7%. It has so far generated about $265 million for Brevard schools, about 74% of which has gone to critical facilities upgrades, including $120 million for repair and renewal of air conditioning systems.

A further $57 million has been spent on school security enhancements and upgrades to classroom technology, such as internet access, computers and other classroom devices.

The surtax is expected to generate another $240 million over the next six years. Remaining needs include more than $66 million in roof renewals, $32 million for plumbing and electrical systems and $36 million for school security upgrades.

As part of the referendum, voters also reaffirmed an independent citizen oversight committee — first established alongside the original levy in 2014 — to monitor and make recommendations on the use of any funds collected through the surtax.