Sales tax? Don’t bail the county out

Al Abbatiello


Fruit Cove

Let’s have a sales tax hike? This “request” from the Ponte Vedra Coalition as stated in The Record’s Sunday editorial is, in my opinion, a misguided effort.

I was asked to help in their efforts to encourage Commissioner Jimmy Johns and the county commission to let taxpayers vote on a 1 percent sales tax increase, but decided I couldn’t, in good conscience, support the effort.

I don’t advocate bailing out the BCC by encouraging citizens to “petition” the commission to place a sales tax on the 2018 ballot or a special election in 2017. I believe the commissioners and county administration need to face the “heat” from the taxpayers rather than give them cover with a citizens’ initiative.

Two years ago taxpayers were denied the opportunity to vote for a 1 percent sales tax when Commissioner Johns cast the deciding vote denying taxpayers the opportunity to vote on the issue. The discussion for a sales tax then is the very same reasons one is needed now.

At that time it was also suggested splitting the 1 percent hike with the school district, but that ended with the commission’s denial. The school district then held a special election winning a ½-cent tax increase. A 1 percent sales tax now actually means a total 1 ½-cent tax increase within a two-year timeframe.

Over the years, county administration and commissioners knew deferred capital and maintenance expenses would eventually end in a financial dilemma. Two years ago, Commissioner McClure pointed out every new development is a “contingent liability,” eventually meaning new roads, maintenance of those roads, fire stations, fire equipment, fire and police personnel, schools, parks, etc. but new development approvals continued and capital and maintenance needs were further deferred.

County budget hearings suggest the “sky is falling” with numerous budget shortfalls and the fact we’re $300 million behind in capital expenditures and deferred maintenance. Typically we’ll hear the county will need to cut services if taxes aren’t raised. I have no sympathy for the administration; they need to face the ire of taxpayers.

Further adding to our financial distress are the actions of state legislators, including the three representing our county. Collectively, they voted for an additional $25,000 homeowner’s tax exemption to be decided in the 2018 general election. This means St. Johns County taxpayers will likely take another $9- $10 million “hit,” further prompting county administration to find a way to tax taxpayers. This added exemption was nothing more than state politicians pandering for reelection votes. State government gives with one hand, causing counties to take with the other.

Politicians should take the heat for their behavior in creating the financial crisis. Giving St. Johns County politicians cover by advocating a citizen-led petition for tax increases, in my opinion, is not a good solution. If they need the money, let them decide how best to solve the problem, justify it and face the consequences in the next two election cycles.

A sales tax isn’t the only solution; the County can also look to increasing gas tax, impact fees on development or additional bed tax before considering raising sales taxes or ad-valorem taxes. Visitors and newcomers to St. Johns County will also share in these potential taxes, as they, too, cause impacts to county infrastructure.

Impact fees should increase considering the fact new home construction helps create increased population and the many impacts created. When I moved to St. Johns County into new construction, I paid the fees to build that home and other services. Newcomers moving to St. Johns County to enjoy a great quality of life and the best school district in all of Florida should pay their share.