Charlotte County residents will be asked to approve the extension of the 1% Local Option Sales Tax in November. The tax was first approved in 1994. Since that time voters passed extensions of the tax in 1998, 2002, 2008 and 2014.
This past year a sales tax focus group has been tasked with collecting data from county agencies and other groups on how to spend the anticipated revenue. The County Commission approves the list of projects. Twelve of the projects on the list are Tier 1 and seven are Tier 2 projects. The Tier 2 projects are funded if anticipated revenue exceeds the Tier 1 projects.
The city of Punta Gorda receives 10% of revenue. A list of projects is available on the county website at www.charlottecountyfl.gov and clicking 1% Local Option Sales Tax. The site has extensive information about past projects and project locations.
Many of the Tier 1 projects are focused on quality-of-life issues, public safety, infrastructure and utilities, and some are for school security upgrades. The Charlotte County Board of Education is a separate taxing authority and one would think that funds for school security would be incorporated in their operating budget. The theory must be that it is a public safety and quality of life issue to include school security upgrades in sales tax revenue.
Supporters of the tax argue that the tax is not a new tax but rather an extension of an existing tax. Another argument for the tax is that visitors to the area pay the tax. These are valid points, but would it be reasonable to give year round residents a tax holiday during off season? The tax holiday is done several times during the year by the state for back-to-school items and hurricane supplies. Citizens rarely have the opportunity to vote on whether to increase or decrease any county taxes. Many economists agree that a sales tax is a regressive tax. Individuals earning minimum wage and senior citizens can least afford sales taxes but high wage earners not so much.
In the past, projects approved by the voters were deleted or changed by county government.
The funding for the Family Services Center on Gibralter Drive in Parkside was approved in 2014. An attempt was made by the county to build a housing project on the site. The proposal was rejected by citizens in Parkside and the project was abandoned. Currently the Family Services Center is listed on the county website as under design from the 2014 vote. Phase two of the project is listed on the 2020 referendum.
Information obtained from the supervisor of elections shows the approval of the sales tax referendum as follows: 1994-53%; 1998-54%; 2002-58%; 2008-51%; and 2014-55%. The variance in the figures could be due to several reasons. The 1994 figure was the first year of the tax, the 2008 vote for approval was low due to the financial crisis at the time. Voters should make themselves aware of the various projects that will be on the upcoming ballot.
Remember to exercise your right to vote!