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Santa Rosa Gas Tax Now Doubled

Photo via Flickr// Mike Mozart

Santa Rosa County’s gas tax doubled on New Year’s Day: from $0.06 to the maximum $0.12 per gallon.  The hike is expected to bring in millions for county road projects, which may not be enough.

County Commissioners approved the levy on two votes in September. The first for a five-cent local option gas tax increase and the second for a penny raise, called the “ninth cent.”

Commission Chairman Don Salter said last year that the need emerged from the loss of road project money from the Florida Department of Transportation's Small County Outreach Program [SCOP]. Once providing more than $7 million dollars, or 75% of funding for eligible projects, the payouts ended when the county’s population grew beyond eligibility limits.

“We have six million dollars currently in our transportation reserve account. And if we start drawing a million, million and a half a year, that’s going to be eliminated pretty quickly,” Salter said.

About $25 million in transportation projects, resurfacing major arteries, building turn lanes, and widening existing highways, are planned in Santa Rosa County over the next five years. Gas taxes, impact fees and property taxes are the only streams available for transportation.

“The SCOP grants that we were able to get in the past, produced about $1.6 million per year,” Salter said. “Each penny would generate approximately $600,000.”

Santa Rosa County is not alone in wrestling with transportation funding shortfalls. Okaloosa County is also maxed out at 12 cents per gallon, with Escambia County a penny lower.

“We are seeing what has really been a major shift in the tax burden, from the federal government to all of the respective state governments,” said Gregg Laskoski, a senior analyst at Gasbuddy.com.

“And that’s simply because we haven’t seen an increase in the federal gas tax since 1992,” Laskoski said. “As a result, there’s been a diminished pool of money to cover the cost of all the highway infrastructure repair, the bridges, everything that needs to be done.”

Florida’s federal and state fuel taxes combined are just under 55 cents per gallon – higher than the national average of 48.6, and more than neighboring states. And with gas averaging about two dollars in Florida, taxes are a larger percentage of what’s paid at the pump.

Santa Rosa Commission Chairman Don Salter concedes that they’ve been too dependent on the now-defunct federal transportation grants. Besides the gas tax, another possibility is reinstating transportation impact fees. Those are one-time charges to offset the cost of new or expanded roads for new development.

The commissioners could still decide to reinstate the impact fees, but it won’t happen overnight. Another study would have to be conducted. Plus, the change in the gas tax will have an effect on how those fees are determined. 

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.