Wednesday, July 27, 2016


THANKS to St. Johns County Commission Chairman Jeb Smith and Commissioner Wm. McClure for stating facts and speaking truth to power -- our County Administrator, MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK and County Attorney, PATRICK FRANCIS McCORMACK, are untrustworthy. Enough flummery, dupery, nincompoopery and pro-developer public policies that rob our people to subsidize the one percent.

Sales tax talk riles St. Johns County Commission
Posted: July 26, 2016 - 11:52pm | Updated: July 27, 2016 - 6:41am


Commissioners wrangled over one board member’s opinion about a lack of trust in the commission as they looked at the county’s finances Tuesday.

The comment came from Commission Chair Jeb Smith as he described why he thought a sales tax for the county’s benefit would have failed in 2015 had it reached the ballot. The commission voted 3-2 against putting the issue on a ballot.

Smith first talked about the public’s trust in the school board and schools superintendant before talking about the commission.

“The voters of St. Johns County do not trust this board,” Smith said, adding that most members have not been on the board very long. “Hence, we are unpredictable. This board is not respected, and it’s perceived to be more politically driven than community-focused.”

The meeting focused on setting tentative millage rates and ways to bring in revenue to plug an ongoing shortfall in the beach services budget — off-beach parking fees and bed-tax revenue changes were pitched as a way to help.

The parking plan is moving forward with some changes — including $5 daily charges for parking for nonresidents for off-beach parking, but commissioners didn’t support any bed-tax change.

Debate on the failed sales tax effort came as commissioners tried to work out tentative millage rates for the coming fiscal year.

Smith suggested lowering general fund millage and raising the transportation trust fund millage equally, representing a $200,000 shift and hole in the general fund that needs to be plugged, an official said.

Commissioners overall are facing a budget with many requests going partially or fully unmet, and one that is drawing millions from general fund reserves for deferred maintenance, said Doug Timms, director of budget and management. $3.9 million in property tax revenue is what the county is budgeting to fund some of more than $22 million in requests.

Commissioner Jay Morris looked at declining capital spending and other revenue and indicated the commission isn’t looking at the big problem, which the commission should do instead of picking at the budget. He said the options are a 1/2-cent sales tax, which won’t happen this year, or a millage rate increase.

That discussion led Smith to discuss borrowing that was done in the past for expenses — which the county is still paying for — and also said he believes the county’s sales tax effort would have failed, though some “presume” otherwise.

In addition to a lack of public trust for the commission, Smith also said people don’t trust the county administrator and weren’t confident the sales-tax money would have been fairly distributed among the county’s areas or that it would have been used properly and could add more responsibility by adding more infrastructure.

He said he is tired of being “berated” by the fact that the sales tax wasn’t put on the ballot, and the commission should scrutinize the budget.

His comments drew rebukes from Commissioners Jay Morris and Rachael Bennett.

“I disagree with everything you just said in that sermon,” Morris said. “Because you were totally missing the big picture, the big elephant, the $270 million [at one time cited by county officials as the infrastructure backlog by county administration]. We’re not looking to build new infrastructure. We’re looking to maintain current infrastructure we currently have. ... If I thought this county had no trust in this board, I would resign tomorrow, you should resign and the other three commissioners should resign.”

Bennett made similar comments.

“I find your sermon extremely offensive,” Bennett said. “For you to speak for people of this county and say they have no trust in the administrator or in this board. I don’t think you have the right to say that. I don’t think you know what all of the people of the county think. I would never represent myself as knowing what everybody thinks, especially when it comes to saying something so completely derogatory about someone who has worked so hard for so long for this county.”

She said the County Commission walked away from an “incredible opportunity” with the sales tax, which would have been an opportunity for funding for transportation issues. But voters weren’t given the opportunity to choose, she said.

She also said later, “We have people here that have no access to a library. ... Now we’re going to feel good about rearranging our millage rate to fix roads? I find that absolutely astonishing.”

Commissioner Bill McClure said he finds “it hypocritical that we continue to bring up the sales tax issue again after we did vote this down, but yet after that vote again members of this board voted to build new buildings, new county buildings, and voted to give developers transportation mitigation or rework development projects — over $100 million dollars that was given away. ... that was the recommendation from the county.”

Morris said later that he thinks the sales tax issue will come up next year.

The commission ended the debate and set the tentative millage rates, with Morris and Bennett voting against the shift. The tentative rate for the general fund millage is 5.12 and the Transportation Trust Fund millage rate is 0.73 — the general fund rate was proposed at 5.13, and the transportation trust fund was proposed at 0.72.

The countywide millage rate for next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, was proposed at 5.8671 in the draft budget. That’s lower than the current year’s rate at 5.8746.

The commission also set the first public budget hearing for 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 6 at the county administration building at 500 San Sebastian View.

Outside of millage rates, the county’s finances will get a boost from beach parking, though not immediately.

County consultant Public Financial Management unveiled a plan Tuesday to increase rates for both off-beach and on-beach parking for St. Johns County lots.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to move forward, with the caveat that county residents won’t pay more for parking and people more than 70 years old and veterans will get a discount regardless of where they live. McClure voted against the motion.

Among other details, the plan is for nonresidents to pay $5 daily for off-beach parking and $50 for the annual permit. The county doesn’t currently charge for off-beach parking. The revenue from the plan as proposed was estimated to be about $1.6 million, but revenue will be less with the discounts and changes for residents supported on Tuesday.

St. Augustine Beach Commissioner Andrea Samuels voiced concern about the plan causing more cars to park in neighborhoods and the need for more parking enforcement as a result.

County Administrator Michael Wanchick said implementation could start in early 2017.


Thomas Francis Reynolds 07/27/16 - 04:41 am 101The truth and nothing but the TRUTH
Jeb Smith was 100% correct ! The most honest Elected Official I have heard in a very long time. Commissioner Morris has insulted his fellow Commissioners long enough with the blaming the problems of the County on not putting the sales tax on the ballot. Jeb Smith gave his word if he was Elected, he would not vote for any sales tax increase. Jeb Smith is a MAN of his word. Who was sitting on the Commission when the problems started? John "Jay" Morriss, Mr Businessman himself was sitting making the decisions that caused these problems. I am so glad that Jeb Smith and Congressman McClure called it like it is. Now Rachel Bennett is well known for never voting down a development. Commissioner Bennett wanted the County Residents to pay for all County needs while developers take the money and run. NO NO NO Rachel............... why don't you Commissioner Rachel Bennett bring up raising the impact fees ? The part that was most amazing was when Commissioner John "Jay" Morris wanted to take up the converstion in private with Chairman Smith. Smith said Nooooooo ! Morris wanted to commit a Sunshine Violation, which is a CRIME........... Thank you Commissioner Smith and Congressman McClure for putting the Residents First !

jbatmick 07/27/16 - 07:55 am 90Way to go Jeb !
Me thinks Mr. Smith told it like it is. Not a lot of trust in the County system as a whole when it comes to representing the lowly tax payer, they only cater to the developers.

Firstcoaster 07/27/16 - 10:33 am 82Right on Comm. Smith
The truth hurts because it should.

The only thing that Bennett has done right is not run for re-election. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

I wonder which developer she will work for when she leaves office?

ANTHONYSER 07/27/16 - 09:18 am 14Tax
Put a tax on drinks with sugar in them. Other. States have

Alessa 07/27/16 - 09:53 am 51At Least Mr. Smith Gets it
The commission members should curb their righteous indignation and listen to Commission Chair Jeb Smith. This county is led by a county administrator, commission, and staff who funds all their pet projects, keeps the consultant gravy train alive and well, funds endless studies, and puts the daily needs of the county at the back of the line. Mr. County Administrator always claims the sky is falling and virtually threatens county residents that our basic needs will not be met unless we funnel more money to you. Mr. Smith certainly has a clear picture of my views, and you would be well advised to listen to him for a change.

sponger2 07/27/16 - 03:56 pm 50Resign Morris, the jury just came back into the courtroom.
Smith is a breath of fresh air and the only one of the bunch besides McClure to have a grasp on the reality of the situation. The phenomenon of non trust of politicians has gone from a national to a local level, with the emphasis on the local level.

Bennett should just pack her bags of money and leave to take care of her son, and disappear forever into the office of the developer she will no doubt work for, after a brief retirement.

Jay thinks he can repeat the con job of the sales tax debacle, which now is known by everyone as a fundraiser for developers rather than a vehicle by which to alleviate the school housing problem. This is evidenced by the commission continuing to approve and break ground on new development while bonding out the PROJECTED revenue; creating debt service, and thereby diluting the principal capital to be created by the sales tax, while a single new school is yet to be built from said revenue. This is a textbook example of the "Completion Backwards Principle" which I postulated to this paper over a year ago.

Finally, while it is clear and documented by the county budget office that it cost more in general services for each new home built than is created by tax revenue, the answer shouldn't be to keep building and raise taxes; rather, it should be to stop building and stabilize expenditures. Anything else is an exercise in futility, and a failure by the commission to the citizens they are alleged to represent. And remember to look up where their donations are derived, because that will be the gauge to judge where their loyalty lies.

ANTHONYSER 07/27/16 - 04:48 pm 20Money
Increase the Impact fees
An impact fee is a fee that is imposed by a local government within the United States on a new or proposed development project to pay for all or a portion of the costs of providing public services to the new development.

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