MILTON — The Santa Rosa County jail has been overcrowded since July, according to the Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office. After working with Sheriff Bob Johnson, Commissioner Sam Parker suggested to the board, during Thursday’s regular commission meeting, holding a special election for a half-cent sales tax to pay for expanding the jail and funding new judicial center construction.
“That half-cent sales tax…can be used not only to build a jail but also [to fulfill] the need of building a courthouse as well as other needs of the Sheriff’s Office,” Parker said, “such as a driving range, upgrades to the shooting range, and other equipment they would have.”
The cost for a special election would be roughly $144,000, according to Supervisor of Elections Tappie Villane, the cost of the March School Board special election.
“We’re looking at a February time frame time to meet all statutory time frames needed to [do it],” Villane said. With a February election, Villane estimates results no later than March.
Parker and Johnson collaborated on the proposal. Johnson favors the source of the funding.
“The thing that excites me about this is the fact that the people will get to decide where their money goes,” Johnson said. “As a homeowner in Santa Rosa County, this would be something that I would benefit from because it’s not going to raise my ad valorem taxes and the tourists would help pay for this and most importantly the people that we arrest, probably a high percentage, have an alcohol issue … They would actually be subsidizing this as well.”
A Florida sales tax can only last 10 years, but Parker estimates needing only eight years of revenue.
Commissioners supported the proposal to fund expanding the jail. However, Chairman Rob Williamson was skeptical of combining a half-cent tax for jail improvements with the courthouse.
“We have experience trying to combine the judicial center with other projects and it hasn’t been successful,” Williamson said.
The commissioners approved the purchase of a 19-acre parcel of land on Avalon Boulevard from JDL, LLC for $850,000 Sept. 14 for the new courthouse. It was a 3-2 vote with Commissioners Parker, Cole and Don Salter voting yay and Chairman Williamson and Lane Lynchard voting nay.
The contract requires the county close on the property by Nov. 2, according to Public Information Officer Brandi Whitehurst.
“The title company wants us to close sooner,” she said.