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Local News

Santa Rosa Seeking Penny Increase In Local Option Sales Tax

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Needing the revenue it would generate, the Santa Rosa County Commission is looking at how to sell a one-cent sales tax increase to voters.

The sales tax in Santa Rosa County is currently 6.5%. The proposed increase would bump that to 7.5%, and help pay for a wish list that’s rather daunting such as a new judicial center to replace the current facility that opened in 1927.

“Obviously, the elephant in the room is the courthouse, but we have a massive drainage project that we’re looking at down in the south end of the county,” said Commissioner Don Salter. “And that drainage project alone, if we try to complete the whole thing, has a price tag of $86 million. The courthouse is between $40 million and $45 million.”

Add to those other projects dealing with public safety and road projects. Other approved uses for Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) money include library enhancements, parks and community centers, and economic development.

Historically, it’s been easier to sneak sunrise past a rooster than a tax increase past Santa Rosa County voters. The only local option sales tax to be approved, says Salter, was in the early 1990's to fund a new county jail.

“Since then, we’ve had three different referendums, where we had the courthouse and some other items and it failed,” Salter said. “Then, two years ago we had the courthouse back for a potential local option sales tax; just the courthouse alone. It got caught up in the location, and it failed again.”

Another claim in favor of adding the penny sales tax, is that it would help offset the loss of property tax revenue from the exemption of about four thousand property owners.

Salter says that the times have changed, and there’s a more diverse Santa Rosa County going from the southern end to the central area to the northern end. In order to approve the levy, residents need to see something that will benefit close to home. That next step is at Thursday’s regular Commission meeting.

“We will continue to try to identify the breakdown of that potential sales tax,” said Salter. “Hopefully in the next four weeks, we’ll be able to determine the location of the [new] courthouse, and be very close to drafting the language to go on the ballot.”

Ballot language for the local option sales tax proposal is due by June 1 in time for the August 30 primary – or by September 2 for the general election November 8. Once it gets onto the ballot it’s up to the voters. Commissioner Don Salter’s hoping they’ll see the light.

“Hopefully they’ll understand what those needs are, and one way or the other we’re going to have to pay for it. The fairest way is through that Local Option Sales Tax, versus looking at some type of property tax, or some type of special taxing unit.”

If approved, the penny local option sales tax extension would take effect January 1, 2017.