Ballot Measure Proposes One Cent Sales Tax Extension
If you throw away your pennies you may want to consider this: the one cent local option sales tax, on the ballot to be renewed this election cycle, adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars over ten years.
The vote is to approve a ten year expansion of the one cent LOST tax which is currently slated through 2017. That one penny adds up to pay for everything from drainage and transportation infrastructure to animal welfare and community centers.
County administrator Jack Brown explains the origin of the tax like this, "The local option sales tax was brought about by legislation from the state of Florida to give counties another option other than property taxes to pay for infrastructure, parks and recreation improvements, within their communities."
The tax is used for more than that: think Sherriff’s vehicles, animal shelter improvements, libraries, playgrounds, and emergency response equipment. At a local town hall meeting to discuss the tax Escambia County commissioner Grover Robinson explained.
"LOST has been able to allow Escambia County to do a number of quality of life issues, that we wouldn't have been able to do and fund otherwise. Drainage and transportation have been huge, but you also heard here tonight parks and recreation, other amenities, even some economic development."
Robinson also argued one of the benefits of a sales tax is that it raises a lot of money and not all of the burden falls on Escambia County residents.
"It generates about $35 million a year and about 35% comes from non-Escambia County residents so when you look at that we'd have to increase the millage rate by two mills, the taxes, to cover what is generated, and so much of it is generated from people who do not live here."
If the tax is already slated through 2017 you may be wondering why it’s on the ballot in 2014. The reason? Public works projects typically take years of planning before any money even changes hands, and by putting up some of its own money Escambia County can leverage it to receive matching federal and state dollars. Again County Administrator Jack Brown.
"As you start laying out how we're funding the county we look out long term. And as we look at other projects being identified by citizens and community agencies, directed through the board of county commissioners, we need to know whether or not that money is going to be in place."
Public Works Director and County Engineer Joy Blackmon agrees, "Oh yeah, for me it's a budgetary thing. I need to know if this is going to be available to us. We have a long list of projects that we'd like to do but we're also taking lists of projects from our citizens so we know where we're going to go from here. You need years to plan this."
What happens if the tax isn’t renewed? It’s more about what doesn't happen according to Colby Brown, the Division Manager for Traffic and Transportation in the Public Works Dept.
"I've been involved with discussions with another county in our state that went for two or three years without an LOST and from the time that it stopped any construction, any progress, any positive movement forward ceased."
So if the tax is renewed how can citizens expect the funds to be spent?
According to Grover Robinson, "You'll see drainage be the number one response that comes out of this LOST, again I think the flexibility allows the community to change as things change and needs change. But I think it all starts identifying it here with citizens in their neighborhoods, with what they want."