Sales Tax Proposal Sent Back for More Info

During a long meeting that stretched from before lunch until 5pm, the Board of County Commissioners yesterday deferred action on staff’s sales tax proposal, sending it back for more information.

Commissioners Valeche, Burdick and Abrams all wanted to see things slow down while the proposal is fleshed out. They did not want to see ballot language as of yet, rather the next session should discuss the unknowns of the proposal, including:

– What is the project list from the cities and School District?
– How would funds be distributed among cities, Cultural Council, county, schools?
– What it looks like without the Cultural Council projects included?
– What does the Hospitality Industry think of it?

While no one wanted to shut it down, they are clearly not ready to move on it. Some concerns expressed were that the proposal had expanded way beyond the original infrastructure funding, encompassing new construction projects, equipment for the Sheriff, and other items. Commissioner Abrams worried that the “Christmas tree” could tip over from all the ornaments.

Regarding the proposals from the Cultural Council – illustrated by a procession of over 10 museum directors, zookeepers, theater managers and the like, some of the projects go way beyond what you would expect from public funding, including architectural enhancements to the exterior of existing buildings to make them more trendy.

We will wait and see. We have listed objections to the plan as it is currently known. We expect that the devil is in the details though, specifically:

– Will the cities give up some of their share to fund CC projects?
– What will each of the 39 municipalities do with their share? Will any reduce their ad-valorem?
– What effect will this have on the county Ad-valorem budget process this year?

Regarding the Fire/Rescue sales tax proposal, there were too many questions about the enabling statute to move forward at this time. In particular:

– It is unclear what happens if sales tax revenue exceeds needs – can the surplus be spent on non fire/rescue projects by the county or cities? – It needs a statute change or AG opinion.
– What would be the process for collecting and distributing the cash, and how could ad-valorem be adjusted after trim notices are sent – Tax Collector Anne Gannon came and listed some of her process issues with it.
– What does Fire/Rescue administration (ie. Fire Chief Collins) think of the proposal. (The proposal is being brought forward by the IAFF union, not Fire/Rescue management).

We will keep you posted.

Some of the organizations with whom we have spoken, are also in a “wait and see” mode. Many believe there are real infrastructure needs, but many of the add-on projects give them pause.

For the Post story on the meeting, see: Action on Sales Tax Issue Delayed.

Increasing Sales Taxes a Bad Idea

A little shy of two years ago, the County Commission voted 4-3 to reject a staff proposal for a ballot initiative for a half penny sales tax increase. This was the third sales tax attempt since 2012, and we are about to see the fourth attempt unveiled at the February 9th BCC meeting (Items 5D2, 5D3).

County Administrator Verdenia Baker has been shopping around her proposal for a half cent increase to fund “infrastructure” – roughly defined as roads, bridges, drainage, parks, and other physical items. The increase would last at least 10 years, and bring in more than $110M per year of new revenue for each 1/2 cent increase. The plan was defeated last time around partly because it was perceived as funding a “grab bag” of small unrelated projects, with nothing that would capture the imagination as a critical need. As one of the Commissioners put it – what is the constituency for road striping and drainage ditches?

Complicating matters this year is the “feeding frenzy” that is surrounding the whiff of new revenue. The School System, with infrastructure needs of their own, are also considering a half cent increase, and since “for the children” is more compelling than “for the drainage ditches”, the county would like to combine their request into a full cent that would be split with the District. So far the district isn’t buying it, figuring (rightly) that their chances are better alone. Not to be muscled aside, County Fire/Rescue, which is funded by its own taxing districts (county and Jupiter), has wanted since 2010 to convert some of its revenue flow from property taxes to sales taxes, and would like at least a half cent of their own. The 2010 proposal was turned down by the BCC over the complexity of dividing it up among the county and cities. And outside of the process (but perhaps thinking they can bring marketing skill to the ballot proposal), the PBC Cultural Council would like a piece of the action. The CC is funded today by the “tourist” bed tax on hotel stays and rental cars.

So is this potential 1-1/2 cent increase in the sales tax (to 7.5% if everyone gets theirs) justified?

Please consider:

  • For the current fiscal year, the county-wide property taxes levied reached an all-time high of $730M, up 9.4% over the previous year, and up 23% in just 4 years, far exceeding inflation and population growth.
  • Although the Sheriff’s portion of the budget increased by almost $30M, he deferred some capital spending into the next fiscal year and we expect an even larger increase in the 2017 budget – therefore the county will be considering another big property tax hike as well.
  • Maintaining the infrastructure is one of the basic things we expect from government, and it should not need its own special revenue source – it should be given priority in the normal budget process.
  • Sales taxes, by their nature generate revenue untied to specific spending needs and outside of the public budgeting process. This leads to a lack of oversight and wasteful spending.
  • A portion of sales taxes (40%) by statute must go to the cities. Some cities are actively opposed to a sales tax increase, and others have budgeted responsibly and do not need additional revenue sources. This is a wasteful and inefficient way to generate county level revenue.
  • For the county, the designated infrastructure “needs” are still a grab-bag of small unrelated projects, and not a compelling list of urgent priorities justifying up to $2.5B in new taxes over 10 years.
  • The schools budget proposed at the state level by the governor will provide significantly more money for the school system next year, easing any need they have for more sales tax revenue.
  • While a case could be made to shift some revenue from property to sales tax to capture more from non-residents (there is some of this in the Fire/Rescue proposal), neither the county nor the School District is considering a reduction of ad-valorem taxes.

We think raising the sales tax for any of the stated purposes is a bad idea, and if any of these do get on the November ballot, we think it will very likely be defeated by the already overburdened taxpayers.

If you agree, let the Commissioners know at or speak at the meeting.

For TAB Articles concerning the various sales tax schemes of the last few years see: