Wednesday, June 17, 2015

County Commission kills sales tax referendum

County Commission kills sales tax referendum
Posted: June 16, 2015 - 10:54pm

The St. Johns County Commission killed a proposed referendum Tuesday to raise the county’s sales tax by one penny.
“People will be denied their right to vote. I’m glad you’re happy about that,” commission Chair Rachael Bennett said after sales-tax opponents erupted in applause.
The decision, made about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, ends a proposal County Administrator Michael Wanchick advanced months ago to address backlogged roadwork and other county needs by increasing the tax rate from 6 cents on the dollar to 7 cents for 10 years.
It also jumbles an effort School Board members had launched to be part of that increase.
A vote earlier in the evening by three of the five commissioners — Bill McClure, Jeb Smith and Jimmy Johns — against including the schools was interpreted by referendum supporters as steps to kill the ballot measure.
“I’m so ashamed I can’t speak. … I am ashamed of what I heard tonight,” Bennett told School Board members who had asked to partner with the commission.
“We’re absolutely all in. We’re here to promote it. We’re here to support you,” School Board Chair Beverly Slough told commissioners, while board members Tommy Allen, Kelly Barrera, Patrick Canan and Bill Mignon stood close by.
School officials had said they could pursue their own referendum if joining with the commission wasn’t possible. That would require formal action after the board digests the commission’s action.
Some school system supporters said a solution to their financial problems was needed quickly.
“There is no more time,” said Colleen Wood, president of the grassroots education advocacy group 50th No More.
Schools superintendent Joe Joyner told the commission the Nov. 3 target proposed earlier for the referendum was the best available solution to a budget crunch the school system faces.
Commission members who backed the referendum said the county has its own budget crisis looming.
“The problem we have is starting next year,” Commissioner Jay Morris said. “[In] 2016, the bottom starts to fall out.”
Bennett echoed that warning, saying the county faced a prospect of serious service reductions.
“The timing is critical,” she said. “ … Starting in October, we are going to be seeing some cuts.”
If a referendum happens, some residents questioned whether voters would support the measure.
“Any time you try to pass a tax in St. Johns County, it’s going to be a tough sell,” said Tommy Bledsoe, who works for the St. Johns County School district. He has also worked for the county.
County Administrator Michael Wanchick told commissioners the county also had an option of pursuing a half-penny increase in the current sales tax of 6 cents on the dollar.
Wanchick had earlier said the county could begin to tackle its money problems with a half-penny.
“There’s no doubt we can solve this year’s budget gap with a half-cent,” he said, adding that it would help position the county to strengthen the county’s infrastructure later.
Wanchick’s staff had drafted a plan this month for $261.5 million in infrastructure changes — roadwork, fire station upgrades, park improvements — that would have been spread over the 10-year life of the proposed sales-tax hike.
More than 150 people came to the meeting, and dozens spoke to the commission, some criticizing the attempt to hold a of people commented.
Athena Hinman, a business owner and St. Johns County resident, said she did not want a sales tax increase on a ballot, and she did not support sharing revenue with the school district.
“I disagree with you all trying to get the school board involved,” Hinman said. “Why are you guys fighting so hard for a special election? Why are you wanting to waste our money on that?”
sponger2 06/17/15 - 06:41 am 32Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty,
We are free at last. At least for a little while. The commission and school board dog and pony show didn't persuade us to buy the crap they were trying to sell us. Even in defeat Bennett couldn't concede her error instead proclaiming that we were "denied the right to vote". Horse poop! WE did vote. WE voted to not let you waste a quarter million dollars of OUR money to push something down our throats that we don't want, to exacerbate a problem you created. The people have spoken. Get over it.
If you want to come to us AFTER imposing a ten year building moratorium with a detailed, line item plan that is well articulated and executable, and that provides for population stability, in contrast to booming growth, come back and talk to us. In the meantime go peddle your papers. Justice has prevailed...for once.
PS: Your boy (Wanch) is still hanging on a thread now "exploring" a half cent tax. Send him packing with his 200K salary and benefit package. I'll do his job for half, and better at that.

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