Meeting held Tuesday in SJC to discuss proposed sales tax hike

St. Johns County may need to cut back on services without additional revenue

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – On Tuesday, county commissioners in St. Johns County will discuss a county administrator's plan to develop additional revenue.

Fire departments, libraries and sheriff departments are necessary in all counties, but St. Johns County may have to cut back on these services if the county doesn't generate more revenue.

County administrator Michael Wanchick is proposing raising the sales tax by 1 cent. If county commissioners agree, the tax increase would need approval of the voters.

When the idea was first presented to the public on Thursday, about 20 members of the public were in favor and 20 against.

DOCUMENT: Fiscal Year 2016 and Beyond: Balancing Revenue with Community Expectations

News4Jax spoke to the communications manager for the county, who said most of the surrounding counties charge a 7 cent sales tax, and it may be time for St. Johns County to jump on board.

"Currently, St. Johns County is one of only a handful of counties in the state of Florida that have a 6 cents sales tax, so consideration of a 7 cent sales tax would essentially level the playing field," said Michael Ryan.

Raising St. Johns County's sales tax by one cent is just one of the options now being presented to county commissioners and residents.

Ryan said more revenue is needed to maintain the county's quality of life.

"We were very fortunate emerging from the recession with a very sound financial foundation. However like most governments and most small local governmental entities, we suffered and our revenue suffered, and unfortunately, that's threatening our quality of life and our ability to provide services and continue growing as our residential base grows," said Ryan.

A PowerPoint slideshow was presented to nearly 100 people Thursday, pitching three options the county could take to increase county revenue.

  • Option 1: Cutting back on resources and declining to increase any new fees or taxes
  • Option 2: Enact several smaller fees and taxes
  • Option 3: Explore a 1 cent sales tax increase that would serve as a primary revenue source for the county that would rack in millions of dollars in the coming years.

"It would raise approximately $26.5 million, which could be used in the general fund for a variety of services, including the Sheriff's Office, the fire department, the parks, library and beach services," Ryan said.

The response from the community was split with some residents saying, "Even though I am on a fixed income, I am for raising taxes. We need to keep all the services we have."

But some disagreed, saying, "Cut the budget and cut services. Do not raise taxes."

If taxes aren't raised, Ryan said St. Johns County will have to cut back.

"Should they choose to go in that direction then our county administration would begin looking at services and programs and facilities and provide them with a very realistic budget of what we're able to provide in the future," said Ryan. "Not just this year, but over the next five and 10 years, and there would be some very challenging decisions in front of us as to what services we would provide and what we'd be able to provide."

The county is now in the process of hearing from business owners, residents and anyone who wants to give their feedback on this issue.

There will be another meeting Tuesday where commissioners will decide which of the three options they prefer. If they choose to the sales tax increase, it could be on the ballot by the end of this year.

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