For the past 14 years, the Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners has tried to propose a 1 percent sales tax. Residents' concerns included having multiple items attached to the tax, too many courthouse locations, and worry that the tax wouldn't sunset.
Now, commissioners have a different sort of tax up for a vote.
MILTON — For the third time since 2002, Santa Rosa County residents will be able to vote for a sales tax to pay for a new judicial center. The choice will appear on the Aug. 30 primary ballot.
Will it work? Here is what’s different about this year’s vote.
The location has already been selected. If the tax passes, the new courthouse will be built adjacent to the old one in downtown Milton.
The courthouse sales tax will only be spent on the courthouse, by ordinance. County commissioners deliberated over including other capital expenses in the sales tax. In an idea presented by Commissioner Rob Williamson, the previous years’ 1-percent sales tax is now split into two separate half-cent sales taxes with separate votes and separate ordinances: one for the courthouse, and the other for infrastructure projects.
Santa Rosa County Administrator Tony Gomillion said these two half-cent taxes are not tied together. A voter may vote for the courthouse tax but against the infrastructure tax, the opposite, both, or neither. The county already imposes a 6.5 percent sales tax. If both taxes pass, SRC residents will pay a 7.5 percent sales tax, the same as Escambia County.
The county estimates a 1-cent sales tax would generate $15,697,477 annually, with 10 percent going to Milton, Jay and Gulf Breeze.
Milton Planning Director Randy Jorgenson said the city has still pledged giving half the sales revenue it would receive — an estimated $887,637 — to the county since the commission voted to keep the courthouse downtown. Though the tax being only a half-cent this time, the project cost hasn’t changed, so the county will have to draw the same amount of money with roughly the same amount going to the cities.
Could the courthouse have been funded another way?
Gomillion said the commission initially mulled increasing the property tax, but said, “if you review the history over the last 10 to 15 years, you would find the record would indicate the commission feels the fairest (is the sales tax).”
Jayne Bell, of the SRC Office of Management and Budget, said a half-cent sales tax would generate about $7 million a year. The ordinance sunsets the tax at five years, Dec. 31, 2021, to generate the $35 million needed for the judicial center.
Bell said the half-cent tax for the courthouse would cost families about $65 a year, “and you can control that, unlike a property tax.” That, she said, means residents can decide when to buy taxable products. Things currently exempt from sales tax — like food, medicine, mortgage payments and car payments — will not be taxed.
A local option sales tax is also limited to the first $5,000, and the maximum LOST for any single large-ticket item is $50, according to the county.
By comparison, Bell said raising property tax 1 mil would generate about $8 million a year and cost property owners $100 on every $100,000 in property value.
Property taxes are only paid by property owners, but anyone can contribute by buying taxable goods. Additionally, the Haas Center, the University of West Florida’s economic research and consulting arm, estimates roughly 8 percent of local sales tax is paid by tourists.
“I hope the sales tax is a success because it will help with the quality of life,” Bell said. “I believe it will be put to good use.
“We won't be allowed not to do right by the money.
BY THE NUMBERS
A 1 percent sales tax would benefit the cities with the most going to Milton, then Gulf Breeze, then Jay:
● Milton: $887,637 = 5.7%
● Gulf Breeze: $553,262 = 3.5%
● Jay: $50,262 = 0.3%
Since 1992, Santa Rosa County asked its citizens to pay for various projects and needs with a sales tax. Half the time it worked; half the time it didn’t.
Sept. 1, 1992 — A one-cent sales tax was proposed to finance the construction of and property acquisition for a U.S. Department of Defense Finance and Accounting Service Center and necessary infrastructure. The tax was to be levied only for the period necessary to pay off said financing, not to exceed 15 years. If Santa Rosa County was not selected as the site for the center, the sales tax would not take effect.
Passed Yes – 9,749 No – 9,470
June 29, 1993 — A one-cent sales tax was proposed to finance property acquisition and construction of a jail.
Passed Yes – 6,355 No – 4,165
March 12, 1996 — Approving completion of county jail/sheriff office, the sales tax collection was limited to 5 total years.
Passed Yes – 8,663 No – 3,117
November 5, 2002 — A one-cent sales tax was proposed to fund the construction of a new courthouse, renovation of the existing courthouse, and expansion of the South End Annex to be levied for a period of 4 years.
Failed Yes – 10,833 No – 31,906
September 5, 2006 — A one-cent sales tax was proposed for 10 years to finance transportation improvements including maintenance/safety projects, roadway capacity projects, sidewalks, and bike paths.
Failed Yes – 12,097 No – 13,178
November 4, 2014 — A one-cent sales tax was proposed to fund the construction of a new courthouse at a location to be determined by referendum. The tax would have been levied for a period of 5 years.
Failed Yes – 12,802 No – 17,468