Sunday, July 02, 2017

Say NO to Developers' Demand for 16.66% St. Johns County Sales Tax Increase on Off-Year Election Ballot

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.

Now they're back, with another noisome nostrum: a penny sales tax.  In a non-election year.  Costing for starters some $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 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 2, 2017 06:05 am - Updated July 2, 2017 06:14 am
Ponte Vedra Beach group pushing for sales tax referendum

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A group in Ponte Vedra Beach wants to put a sales tax increase for St. Johns County on a ballot this year in hopes of catching up on an ever-growing backlog of capital and maintenance projects.

Lisa Cook, president of the Ponte Vedra Coalition, says the county’s policy of dipping into reserves to float the budget from year to year is unsustainable.

“We’ve come to the end of the road and there’s a big elephant in the room,” she said. “What do we do about it? We can’t keep deferring deferred work. At some point you have say, ‘OK, we have to address it.’”

County commissioners, for their part, directed staff to draft two versions of a budget for 2018. One version uses reserves to maintain levels of service while another is balanced without using reserves. Not using reserves, and not seeking any additional revenues, means cuts and unfunded requests by departments for personnel and projects.


Challenges for St. Johns County in crafting 2018 budget amplified after eventful 2017
Challenges for St. Johns County in crafting 2018 budget amplified after eventful 2017
“People are saying these are lifestyle changes and you need to cut nonessential services,” Cook said. “I sat through the budget hearings and I’m seeing lifesaving items getting cut. That’s not lifestyle; to me, those are health and safety issues.”

She said her organization feels an increase to the sales tax would be more palatable than an increase in property taxes because tourists and nonresidents would also be contributing. She said the county would take in 100 percent of the additional sales tax revenue, but the residents wouldn’t feel the full burden of its cost.

County spokesman Michael Ryan told The Record this week that staff has received no direction from the commission to pursue putting a sales tax increase to a referendum. However, he also said commissioners will review the recommended budget for next year at their July 18 meeting, opening the door to any number of paths.

“It may evolve into that,” Ryan said.

Or it may not. However, the Ponte Vedra Coalition says July 18 is the time to act, as the deadline to put a referendum on a ballot this November is quickly approaching.

Vicky Oakes, the county’s supervisor of elections, told The Record this week that in order to get any referendum on a ballot this year, the deadline to have a draft resolution on her desk is Aug. 1. After July 18, the commission’s next meeting is Aug. 1.

Cook said her organization has met with all the commissioners, asking them to “let the citizens vote on their financial situation,” and finding mixed support.

The board voted 3-2 against putting the issue on a ballot in 2015.

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

Since the vote, Morris has repeatedly made the claim that St. Johns County, at least on its present course, will not be financially viable in the coming years.

In his June 28 newsletter, Smith wrote the following: “As a conservative legislator, I believe in keeping taxes low and limiting the scope of government. It is my conviction, intent, and position to adhere to these fundamental precepts while appropriating your tax dollars.”

Commission Chair Jimmy Johns, in his editorial board interview with The Record leading up to last year’s election, said he does not bring his personal preferences to the board.

“If the entire county — or the majority of the county — wants a sales tax, then that’s the direction I will go in,” he said at the time. He also estimated at least 90 percent of the reasons people had given him back in 2015 as to why they wanted a sales tax increase would not have materialized.

In his April newsletter, Johns wrote: “I have been told that property owners either need to pay more in taxes, fees, and other expenses or the County needs to reduce the level of services and programs provided. We, the five County Commissioners, can only represent you and your interest when we hear from you.”

Since Hurricane Matthew, Johns has repeatedly expressed a desire to wean the county off its dependence on reserves.

Newcomers Dean and Waldron expressed differing views on the sales tax issue in their editorial board interviews with The Record leading up to last year’s election.

Dean said he would have voted in favor of putting the proposal for a one-cent sales tax increase on the ballot.

“That’s probably the biggest revenue source available to the county,” he said at the time. “The voters should have an opportunity to vote on that issue.”

Waldron, on the other hand, said he would like to see the county find efficiencies in the budget before increasing any fees or taxes.

The St. Johns County School Board, which initially tried to latch onto the county’s 2015 effort, soon pursued its own half-cent increase to address school needs. The referendum passed that November with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Leading up to the vote, school officials said the half-cent hike would be expected to bring in about $150 million over its 10-year lifespan. At their May 22 workshop, school leaders were looking at projections around $18.6 million in revenue from the half-cent increase to add to the district’s coffers in 2017-18.

According to the 2016 Local Government Financial Information Handbook, put out by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, a one-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.

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