ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Over the next two weeks, St. Johns County plans to host three educational town halls to have a conversation and provide the community with facts about the 1-cent sales tax referendum on the November ballot.

According to the county, the town halls are not to advocate for or against the referendum but rather to provide the public with information and separate fact from fiction.

St. Johns County Commissioner Sarah Arnold proposed the idea of hosting the town halls during a Tuesday meeting, saying there is a lot of misunderstanding about the referendum in the community.

“I’m astonished at kind of the lack of information and/or the blatant misrepresentation of facts regarding the sales tax initiative that I’m seeing on social media, that I’m hearing from these various community groups,” Arnold said.

If approved, the sales tax would be raised from 6.5 to 7.5 cents for the next 10 years and that money would go toward infrastructure, public safety and quality-of-life projects.

The county says right now it has a backlog of about $500 million in infrastructure needs that need addressing as thousands of new residents flock into the area each year.

Here’s how the county says the money would be used:

  • $243 million needed for roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure projects
  • $120 million needed for public safety enhancements, including police, fire and rescue
  • $88 million for five parks
  • $49 million for public libraries

But residents have questioned why developers aren’t the ones footing the bills for the improvements through impact fees.

Commissioners Henry Dean and Christian Whitehurst aimed to address those questions on Tuesday.

“I’m concerned that if this doesn’t pass, then people will say, ‘Well, why don’t you guys just charge more in development?’ I don’t think that they know that we are charging the maximum that we are allowed to by law,” Whitehurst said. “I get the impression that the public thinks that there are other sources of money, that there are other solutions to this issue that we’re faced with the infrastructure.”

“Not only are we charging the maximum allowed by law based on our own economic analysis, but we’ve been doing so since 2018 when we raised the impact fees,” Dean continued. “We’re dealing with a backlog. We’re not dealing with future development. We’ve got future development fairly well covered with the impact fees we’ve been charging since 2018.”Arnold’s fellow commissioners agreed a town hall is needed.

At the meetings, St. Johns County staff — which may include the county administrator and directors of growth management and transportation, according to Arnold — will cover the most frequently asked questions, give a presentation of the county’s current infrastructure backlog and allow an opportunity for the community to ask questions.

One or more county commissioners may be present, but no action will be taken at the town halls.

WHAT: 1st Sales Tax Educational Town Hall

WHEN: Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, 5:30-7 p.m.

WHERE: St. Johns County Auditorium, 500 San Sebastian View, St. Augustine, FL 32084

The first town hall will be live-streamed via GTV at GTV is also available on Comcast Cable in southern St. Johns County on Channel 3 and northern St. Johns County on Channel 29 or 261. GTV is also available to U-verse subscribers on Channel 99.