MILTON — To stop falling further and further behind in needs for transportation, drainage, public safety and quality of life, nearly 60% of Santa Rosa County voters approved a half-cent sales tax on Aug. 30, 2016.
During the past two years and nine months (Jan 1. 2017 to Sept. 1, 2019), the county with the 11th fastest growth rate in Florida collected $21,145,392 to help keep up with much-needed infrastructure projects.
It resurfaced 41 miles with the sales tax, spent $7.1 million on the Sheriff’s Office and fire departments, and used $4 million in sales tax to leverage an additional $10 million in state and federal funds for other infrastructure projects.
Don Salter, who has represented District 3 for 18 years, said he has always lobbied for the sales tax to help take the burden off county residents who pay property tax. Of the 67 counties in Florida, only Citrus lacks a sales tax.
What will going from a half-cent to a full penny sales tax mean to the average citizen? About $6 a month.
“Growth is not going to stop,” Salter said. “Growth will happen whether we get one-cent or not. It’s a way of ensuring we have a quality county.”
Voters will head to the polls Tuesday in a contentious vote on the penny sales tax that will generate at least an estimated $182 million over the next 10 years. The county has already identified eight transportation and drainage projects, four public safety projects and eight quality of life projects it will fund, if the sales tax passes.
Compare the $21 million the county collected in half-cent sales tax and what it has done with that money to the $9,561,394 of funding generated from an impact fee for three years (Jan. 1, 2006 to Jan. 1, 2009).
The county charged the one-time impact fee of $2,090 on urban single-family home buyers and a $1,222 impact fee on rural single-family home buyers. The commercial impact fee was $3,354 urban and $1,962 rural.
The impact fee funded: realignment and land acquisition at 5 Points in Pace; a Navarre community access road study; five sidewalks throughout the county; and two turn lanes, including one at Chumuckla Highway and Willard Norris Road in Pace and U.S. Highway 98 and Janet Street in Navarre.
TJ Goulet, a Navarre businessman, said despite what Santa Rosa County officials say it does not have a revenue problem, noting property tax revenues increased and the gas tax doubled from six cents to 12 cents. He opposes the penny sales tax for that and many other reasons. He said he would rather see the county impose an impact fee again.
“What we have is a priority problem,” Goulet said. “It’s wrong to spend a quarter of a million on a special election. It’s wrong to try and subvert the representation of the people like that. I don’t trust how they spent the other half penny.”
Others oppose the sales tax because they see a conspiracy between developers, builders and county commissioners. The Moving Santa Rosa Forward PAC has donated $88,900 in cash, $1,824.86 in-kind and spent $63,283.48. Additionally, the county scheduled the special election before a new 2020 state requirement that requires 66% of voters to approve a tax increase.
Elaine Smith, Santa Rosa County Voters Against Overcrowded Roads and Schools, said she supports an impact fee over a penny sales tax. She scolded county leaders for holding a special election.
“You’ve got to ask yourself, why would commissioners spend money on recreation and parks when the roads are woefully inadequate and the schools have no more room and no more money?” Smith asked. “So the community can continue to be sold.”
However, Ed Carson, a general contractor, said passing the sales tax would help Santa Rosa County maintain its infrastructure in a more fair way.
“We are way behind the eight ball on infrastructure,” Carson said. “In our minds there is no other real way to fund it. These things don’t need to be totally done on the backs of property owners.”