It’s been five years since the last sales tax referendum, and Charlotte County officials are gearing up for the next big ask in 2020.
The Florida Department of Revenue calls it the discretionary sales tax, and it is used by most counties in the state to raise funds for capital projects such as road, libraries, parks and other projects.
Charlotte County’s 1 cent surtax on purchases under $5,000 is due to expire at the end of 2020. The county has had a surcharge since 1994, but the last vote was in 2014.
In the first steps of getting ready, commissioners on Tuesday approved a method for picking a Sales Tax 2020 Focus Group, if not the actual focus group. Commissioner Joe Tiseo persuaded board members to add more members to avoid too many people representing any one interest group.
Now, the makeup will be one member from each of 10 local organizations plus two members chosen by each of the five commissioners with the chairman getting three choices. The chairman’s extra choice is to keep the number of members odd in case of a tie.
This focus group would convene in July, said Brian Gleason, the county’s spokesperson. It will hold a series of meetings to review and rank proposed projects. Its final meeting would be in March 2020 before presenting its project list to commissioners.
Commissioners must select an election date. Typically, they have chosen a general or primary election date, Gleason said. There will be a primary election on Aug. 25, 2020 or a general election on Nov. 3, 2020.
Prior to that, in April 2020, commissioners will give direction for the ordinance, and request an election date from the Supervisor of Elections, Gleason said.
Projects paid for in Charlotte County in the past include: $20 million for phase 3 of Burnt Store Road, $3.7 for the Sheriff’s headquarters, $9 million for the South County Regional Park and $8.5 million for sidewalks. Since 1994, the county has funded $449.5 million worth of projects.
Current sales tax revenues have been coming in well above the estimated rate during the economic boom, capital project staff have informed commissioners in the past year. This has allowed the county to take on many more projects on its wish list.
Charlotte County Budget Director Gordon Burger told commissioners last week that the sales tax will likely provide substantial resources to the county as long as development and construction continue to thrive.
Advocates of the sales tax surcharge say that it shifts much of the cost of providing municipal service to visitors and tourists, thus sparing residents from bearing the full cost in a state that relies on tourism.
Opponents of high sales taxes in general say it affects the poor most, because they spend proportionately more of their income on goods and services. To address this, Florida’s overall sales tax, including local add-ons, exempt groceries and medicine.
Florida relies heavily on sales taxes in general, according to the Florida Policy Institute, because there is no state income tax. Other Florida counties charge different amounts for this tax, with the range being .5 to 2.5 %, according to the state DOR.