Major road projects, and their price tags, are forcing the Santa Rosa County Commission to explore new ways to pay for them. One possible solution is raising the county’s gasoline tax.
Commission Chairman Don Salter says the need stems from the loss of road project money from the Florida Department of Transportation's Small County Outreach Program. Once providing more than $7 million, or 75% of funding for eligible projects, the payouts ended when the county’s population grew beyond eligibility standards.
“We now have to come up with $1.2 million for the Berryhill Road project, which is a $2.4 million total” said Salter. “We have $6 million 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.”
The County Commission is looking at a number of ways to replace the state dollars. Gas taxes, impact fees and property taxes are the only streams available for transportation. The most prominent appears to be raising the local option gas tax up to six cents per gallon.
“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. So we would be looking at a minimum three cent, if not the whole six cent (tax hike).”
Salter believes that the county’s been too dependent on the transportation grants which are now history. 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.
Any changes in the gas tax, impact fees or ad valorem would have to be made before the start of the new fiscal year October 1st. Salter concedes that a hike in the gas tax makes more sense, because it’s a user-based levy paid by both residents and visitors.
“We’re also going to have to look at property taxes,” said Salter. “Nobody wants to pay more property taxes, but we’re going to have to find a way to fund our transportation system. It costs $150,000 a mile to resurface a road. And in Santa Rosa County, we have about 1,500 miles of paved roads.”
One catch that Santa Rosa and other local governments are coping with is the growth of fuel-efficient vehicles on the road. Less fuel bought, says Salter, the less money flowing into their coffers.
The Santa Rosa County Commission is scheduled to tackle the gas tax and other possible revenue streams in June. That’s when the panel will also roll out its capital construction plan through the year 2020.