Commissioners moving forward on 1 cent sales tax referendum for St. Johns County

Commissioners say sales tax increase needed to deal with booming county growth

St. Johns County commissioners voted 4 to 1 Tuesday to have attorneys draw up an official proposal to levy a one-cent sales surtax.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – St. Johns County commissioners voted 4 to 1 Tuesday to have attorneys draw up an official proposal to levy a one-cent sales surtax.

Commissioners say the sales tax hike is needed to keep up with booming growth. St. Johns is one of the fastest-growing counties in the U.S. and the second-fastest growing county in Florida, and the county has a backlog of projects that need funding.

County attorneys are now going to write up the sales tax as an official proposal and the first discussion of it is now scheduled for March 1. The issue will still need approval from commissioners before its placed on the countywide ballot and in the end would be decided by voters in November.

Commissioners say the money generated would go to help the county improve roads, bridges, public safety and parks to account for the massive influx in population.

In Tuesday’s meeting, the county’s researchers presented the ins and outs of the proposal. Essentially, the commission is looking at how much of the county’s infrastructure needs fixing, how much those fixes will cost, and how the county will pay for it.

According to the county, there are approximately $500 million in total infrastructure needs. That’s all broken down into four categories:

  • $243 million is needed for roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure projects
  • $120 million for public safety enhancements, including police, fire and rescue
  • $88 million is needed for five parks
  • $49 million is needed for public libraries

But not everyone at Tuesday’s County Commissioners meeting was on board with the idea.

Though the estimates are just that – estimates -- some of the county’s residents who spoke out during the meeting called some of the costs excessive and said it needs to be scaled-back.

“What struck me is there’s a complete disconnect with what the citizens can actually afford to pay,” said Blake Paterson, vice-chair of the Republican Executive Committee for District 5. “They should be recasting all these numbers before they ever consider imposing a tax on the citizens.”

Others said they don’t want a new tax at all and if there is one imposed, that it should be smaller, and more-narrowly targeted.

“The infrastructure, the way the development’s going here, the roads and access is so far behind it’s a shame,” said William Fisher, with Flagler Estates Road & Control District.

“The voters are going to want to hear that. I think every voter wants all of the parts that are our called for. They want good roads that are called for, but they’re going to ask that question: How did we get here? And are you sure that we won’t be back in 10 years,” St. Johns County resident Joe McInerney said.

The northern part of the county, which was mostly undeveloped in the 90s, is now filled with new neighborhoods and more are planned or already being built. On The Morning Show last month, commission chair Henry Dean first proposed a one-cent sales tax. Here’s why he says it’s needed.

“That’s a revenue source that we’ll have to consider to take action. And time will tell A) whether the commission moves forward or B0 whether the voters who want to maintain quality of life in this county will make a decision and approve that referendum,” Dean said. “If not, I’m not exactly sure what would be our next option.”

Again, if the commissioners approve a referendum, voters would get the final say -- and if they say yes -- the sales tax would go from 6.5 to 7.5 cents.

To be clear, the tax revenue is only for infrastructure and would NOT be able to pay for anything else. Not pay raises, extra staff positions or any housing developments.

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.

Joe covers education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.