St. Johns County hosts first town hall to discuss 1-cent sales tax referendum

The referendum is proposed to decrease 500-million-dollar deficit

St. Johns County hosted the first of three educational town halls on Tuesday to have a conversation and provide the community with facts about the 1-cent sales tax referendum on the November ballot.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – St. Johns County hosted the first of three educational town halls on Tuesday to have a conversation and provide the community with facts about the 1-cent sales tax referendum on the November ballot.

According to the county, the town halls are not to advocate for or against the referendum but rather to provide the public with information and separate fact from fiction.

The meeting was held in the St. Johns County Auditorium from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. More than 40 people showed up with a majority of them being against the increased sales tax.

St. Johns County Commissioner Sarah Arnold proposed the idea of hosting the town halls during a meeting last week, saying there is a lot of misunderstanding about the referendum in the community.

“I’m astonished at kind of the lack of information and/or the blatant misrepresentation of facts regarding the sales tax initiative that I’m seeing on social media, that I’m hearing from these various community groups,” Arnold said.

If approved, the sales tax in St. Johns County would be raised from 6.5 to 7.5 cents for the next 10 years and that money would go toward infrastructure, public safety and quality-of-life projects.

The county says right now it has a backlog of about $500 million in infrastructure needs that need addressing as thousands of new residents flock into the area each year.

Here’s how the county says the money would be used:

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

But residents have questioned why developers aren’t the ones footing the bills for the improvements through impact fees.

St. Johns County staff gave a presentation on the current infrastructure backlog which the county explained is a 500-million-dollar deficit. The county said 60 out of 67 Florida counties have implemented a discretionary sales tax to address infrastructure backlog.

Commissioners Henry Dean and Christian Whitehurst welcomed questions from the community at the meeting.

One community member asked, “If it’s only a penny then why is it a big deal?”

“It’s a big deal for residents that live in this county that expect services, expect parks, expect libraries, fire stations and uncongested roads,” Dean replied.

Other residents expressed their concerns about the proposed sales tax increase as well.

“They’re trying to pass a penny tax. It’s not just a penny for the average family. Ten years it’ll be $4,000. The proposed [sales tax increase] only benefits developers,” Charles Williams said.

“If we do no development by tomorrow, we’ll still have a 500-million-dollar deficit, and our quality of life will suffer,” Dean said.

The second sales tax educational town hall is Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Players Senior Community Center.

The sales tax referendum will be voted on during the general election, which is on Nov. 8.

Early voting begins Oct. 26 in St. Johns County.


About the Authors:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.