Wednesday, July 19, 2017

No 16.66% Sales Tax Increase for St. Johns County Voters to Decide in 2017: Thank you!

Sneaky-Pete St. Johns County Commissioner JAY MORRIS and Ponte Vedra burghers (mis)led by MARY KOHNKE lost another tax tussle in St. Johns County Commission July 18th.

During Commissioners' comments -- as I predicted privately -- an effort was made to place on the August 1, 2017 agenda the matter of a 16.66T sales tax increase, with the intention of creating yet another tax-only-special-election in 2017. "Let the voters decide," say developer tools -- in a one-issue "special election," like 8.8% sales tax increase for schools in 2015, huckstered by developers and their bullies and toadies, including St. Augustine Beach Civic Association and Ponte Vedra swells.

Yes, a few misguided souls wanted yet another tax to be voted in a special election, which costs some $200,000 and wastes precious governmental resources.

Subtle as a rubber crutch, the abuse of Commissioners' comments to make substantive motions must stop. Put substantive matters on the agenda for all to see, hear and speak out on.

Kudos to B.J. Kalaidi and Tom Reynolds. We need more government watchdogs. Thanks to Commissioners Jeb Smith, Paul Waldron and Johns. No thanks to Commissioners Morris and Dean,

To: Ponte Fedra swells. If you want city services, go incorporate Ponte Vedra as a city, please.

Watching insolent Ponte Vedra swells throwing their weight around is one of the continuing joys of living in St. Johns County. Now they want to sneak an off-year ballot initiative on a special election ballot to balloon your sales taxes by 16.66%, only a penny, they say. Swells tried it two years ago and failed. (Developers did get a half penny sales tax for schools, with a 33,200% ROI -- investing $189,000 in campaign funds to avoid $150,000,000 in taxes and impact res over ten years.

Ponte Vedra's self-appointed elite made up a county charter in 2008, without public participation. Their pals on County Commission, led by then-Chair THOMAS G. MANUEL, twice inflicted it on our ballots in 2008.  They refused to adopt our proposed amendments,  We killed it.  Twice.  The dumb 'ole charter lacked was engineered intended to allow consolidation of power into five all-powerful commissioners.  Thinking Democrats and Republicans united to defeat it.

Now they Ponte Vedra Coalition is back, with yet another noisome nostrum: a penny sales tax.  In a non-election year.  Costing for starters some $200,000 to $300,000 in costs for a one-issue ballot.  Just say no.  Sales taxes are regressive. Raise the taxes on developers and increase their impact and other fees.  Stop picking our pockets, piglets.

Tell off the "effete corps of impudent snobs" (thank you, Spiro Agnew and William Safire, for these great words).

Tell Lisa Johnson Cook to drop the oyster and leave the wharf -- increasing the tax burden on working people is wrong. Pay your taxes, swells.

Ponte Vedra Coalition is a small group of friends, long led by eccentric ex-Commissioner MARY KOHNKE, a/k/a "MARY CRANKY," whose on-camera antics with journalist Jeff Gray may be seen on YouTube. Watch YouTube video of MARY KOHNKE here:

Cranky MARY KOHNKE (left) with LISA COOK (right)

Posted July 19, 2017 06:11 am
St. Johns County Commission says “no” (again) on pursuing sales tax increase

As soon as talk over a 1-cent sales tax increase for St. Johns County’s capital and infrastructure needs finally came to a boil Tuesday, the prospect of putting it to the voters was reduced to a simmer, moved off the heat and covered with a lid.

In the depths of closing comments, Commissioner Jay Morris made a motion to put the item on the board’s agenda for its next meeting Aug. 1. The timing matters because that’s the last day the county’s supervisor of elections can accept any questions for a special election ballot this November.

Morris said the financial hole that was already deep two years ago, when the previous commission’s consideration of a sales tax increase also fell flat, has only gotten deeper. He told fellow commissioners they would not be raising taxes on anybody, but giving residents “the opportunity and the constitutional right to vote.”

Commissioner Henry Dean seconded Morris’ motion, but Commissioners Jeb Smith, Jimmy Johns and Paul Waldron were pretty quick to say “no.”

Before the vote, resident B.J. Kalaidi said commissioners’ “real feelings” and intent about such matters should be put forth when members of the public are actually there to hear and speak on it, at the head of the meeting, rather than at the end of the afternoon.

Dean didn’t offer any specific reasoning for his support of Morris’ motion.

Earlier in the meeting, during a review of the county’s recommended budget for next year, Dean said he was “very comfortable” with the outlook for 2018. His recommendation at the time was only to start looking at alternatives for addressing revenue shortfalls, such as the possible expansion of the homestead exemption that would cost the county an estimated $9-$10 million in annual property tax revenues.

Even if expansion of the homestead exemption is all but an inevitability, Florida voters won’t be putting their stamp on that until November 2018 and the tax break wouldn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2019. But Morris, who will not be running for re-election when his current term ends next year, told fellow commissioners they should “jump the gun” and get out ahead of any further meddling by Tallahassee.

According to the 2016 Local Government Financial Information Handbook, put out by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, a 1-cent sales tax increase in St. Johns County could have generated nearly $33 million for local municipalities in 2017. Of that total, just under $30 million would have gone to the county. The remaining funds would have been divvied up among the cities of St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach and Hastings, proportionate to their populations.

While Johns said he was not opposed to increasing revenue sources, he also had concerns the county would not be able to demonstrate what exactly the need is and where the money would go. He compared it to signing a 10-year lease on a car without knowing anything about it.

He said even people who have conveyed to him they would be in support of a sales tax increase are casting a wide net and have been unable to identify any particular projects they would like to see done.

Johns said he wasn’t arguing the county has needs, but that he was unsure the situation could clearly and objectively be explained, in a short period of time, to the people who would ultimately be voting on the increase. In reply, Morris said all they’d have to do is go by the 2015 list of capital improvement projects with some updates and opportunity for input from voters.

Smith said he had “real objections” to the $175,000 price tag to put the item on a special election ballot and that he was “adamantly opposed” to pursuing the increase in an off-year rather than a general election.

Addressing the cost aspect of Smith’s concerns, Morris said three business people have indicated to him they would “go to their associates to fund it” if the matter was put to a referendum. However, he also said he couldn’t guarantee they’d pick up the tab.

Waldron said he’s never felt the sales tax increase should be on a special ballot and that doing so would be counterproductive to truly gauge how voters feel about the issue, due to generally lower turnouts.

“I don’t think we’re in that bad a shape as we lay it on to be, just looking at this,” the first-year commissioner said of the recommended budget for next year. He said he’d like to sift through the capital projects list with fellow commissioners and decide what’s really important, particularly in the short-term.

For example, he said he couldn’t imagine the county ever spending $45 million on stormwater infrastructure at one time, even in a better financial position and even though it’s considered a “need.”

This is the second time in two years a sales tax increase for the county has fizzled out before reaching the voters. The board voted 3-2 against putting the issue on a ballot in 2015.

Accounting for the “yes” votes were Morris and then-Commissioner Rachael Bennett. Smith and Johns, along with then-Commissioner Bill McClure, were in the “no” column. Dean and Waldron have since replaced Bennett and McClure on the dais.

After Tuesday’s sales tax vote, Waldron suggested the commission consider reallocating bed tax dollars or the possibility of adding a fifth cent to that assessment. He said advertising spending is definitely up, while the investment into the quality of the product seems to be lagging, citing beach parking, or lack thereof, as an example. Commissioners offered mixed support, citing considerable opposition and controversy with previous attempts to rework those monies.

Look for more in The Record this week about the county’s recommended budget for 2018.

1 Comment

Tom Reynolds
Just like that really good looking Man (me) said during non-agenda Public Comments " No " to a one cent sales tax.

Raise the impact fees and get the money upfront when the building permit gets issued.

Raise the Bed Tax and readjust the spending, staying within the State guidelines.

Just because the GOUTY COMMISSIONS past and present have let the NORTH FLORIDA DEVELOPERS do what ever they want for very little cost, DOES NOT MEAN WE THE RESIDENTS NEED TO PAY !

Stop voting R s in. They are the developeR s BEST FRIENDS !

St. Johns Coun

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