BOCC said raising ad valorem taxes may be needed without sales tax income.

After last year’s unsuccessful attempt to make a local sales tax happen in Santa RosaCounty, the Board of County Commissioners discussed Monday how to make the sales tax happen and for what projects it could be used. While the sales tax has long been the desired means to pay for a new courthouse, Commissioner Rob Williamson added without a sales tax, the county would need to raise ad valorem taxes to keep county services at existing levels.

Primarily, the BOCC discussed letting business take the lead on promoting the sales tax instead of the county.

Both Commissioners Bob Cole and Rob Williamson stressed letting the community build support for a sales tax rather than the county “selling” it as Williamson said.

Cole said, “For us to move the sales tax to the public, I don’t think we’re going to be able to do that. We need the public to help us, and want it on the ballot, and recognize that we are doing a good job with the budget. This is a way we can keep from raising ad valorem taxes. Not that that’s a threat, but it’s a reality.”

Williamson said, “This should be something that should be driven by business, by the public. It is not something that I envision a member of this board going around to the chambers of commerce or to other civic organizations talking about the need for this…If we do not get a local option sales tax passed, we will likely have no choice but to increase ad valorem taxes to keep services at their existing level.” He did add the budget may change by next year where this would be less likely to happen.

Williamson also discussed with County Attorney Roy Andrews the latest referendum language would be due to get it on the ballot for August of next year. Andrews said June would be the deadline.

CountyAdministrator Hunter walker said in the Board’s recent budget workshops, the members expressed wanting a  “multipurpose local option sales tax initiative to deal with a number of construction, or capital, or equipment needs.” He listed sheriff’s vehicles or IT equipment, recreational facilities, or the storm water management drainage. Both Cole and Commission Chairman Salter agreed the sales tax referendum language should not focus on a single project, like the courthouse. Salter said, “We have too many needs.” Cole said he’s felt the same way since losing the third vote on the sales tax “when targeting individual items.”

Walker also said October 19, the BOCC expects to hear from the City of Milton on where the city is in securing the properties needed for putting a new judicial center downtown. He said, “It seems to me we’re running out of time. The Board needs to start discussing how you’re going to deal with the courthouse and a multipurpose sales tax too, in anticipation of the 2016 election cycle.”