MILTON — A new citizens group is organizing to defeat the latest attempt by Santa Rosa County to pass a sales tax.
Members of Santa Rosa County Voters Against Overcrowded Roads and Schools argue that taxpayers ultimately end up getting stuck with the bill for new roads, new schools and other infrastructure needed to support the 12th fastest-growing county in Florida.
They would rather see its county commissioners implement the one-time $5,000 impact fee on buyers of newly built single-family homes that the Santa Rosa County School District presented in May during a joint meeting.
“What do they have against our kids?” asked Phillip Hoffman, a Pace resident and media consultant for the group. He sported a neon yellow shirt bearing the citizen group’s name along with a black silhouette of a traffic jam across the front.
The special referendum for the half-cent sales tax increase is scheduled for Oct. 8. If it passes, the county would begin charging a full penny.
Voters approved a half-cent sales tax in 2016, when 59.8 percent supported it. Before that, however, they rejected levying a sales tax three times between 2002 and 2016 to build a new courthouse.
Don Salter, a county commissioner for District 3 since 2000, said Santa Rosa faces $288 million in capital needs over the next 10 years. He pointed out visitors to the county pay 25-30% of the sales tax.
“We can’t do that without a 1-cent sales tax in the future,” he said. “I hope people will get informed and really understand what needs to be done so we can continue to have a great county.”
Salter insisted an impact fee would fail to raise enough money to pay for everything the county needs. He added that the money can only be spent in the areas where growth occurs. Salter also pointed out that new homebuyers already pay more in taxes than longtime residents because home values plummeted during the recession in 2008 and 2009.
A Florida constitutional amendment limits property tax increases to 3% a year. Meanwhile, new homebuyers must pay a higher property tax based on current values.
However, Elaine Smith said her study of the Moving Santa Rosa County Forward PAC found it collected $66,150 in donations from development-related entities. Edwin Henry, Southern Site & Utility Design, Volkert Engineering, Mott MacDonald and First Place Partners all chipped in $10,000 in support of the additional half-cent sales tax.
Sales tax supporters recently began putting up signs and sending out mailers supporting the measure.
“I call them investors because that’s exactly what they are,” said Smith, president of Santa Rosa County Voters Against Overcrowded Roads and Schools. “It stinks to high heaven.”