Citrus County commissioners are going to talk Tuesday morning about potentially asking voters for a sales tax increase to pay for residential road repaving.
Just Wright Citrus opinion: Bad idea. And here’s why:
Not only will voters torpedo this flunky in 2022, it’ll kill chances for a sales tax increase for any decent idea – and there are plenty – for years.
So let’s get into it.
First off, few will disagree that the county has a ton of neighborhood roads that need resurfacing. I’m not going to go into the details of how many years at the current pace it’ll take before all the streets are repaved, and how we’ll always be behind the pace and all that. I absolutely concede the point. We’ve got a lot of roads – not just in Citrus Springs but that’s where most of them are – that are in need of attention.
But it’s a policy decision of the county commission to prioritize repaving neighborhood streets, which makes it a political one.
There’s a widely held, but untrue, belief that prior to the 2014 election of Scott Carrnahan and Ron Kitchen Jr., the county didn’t have a street-repaving program. In fact, the county regularly spent at least $1 million to $2 million a year on road resurfacing, but it was done somewhat quietly. Not the big whup-to-do it is today.
But just prior to 2014, the county significantly dropped resurfacing and shifted that money into the medical corridor plan for C.R. 491. The public hated the medical corridor idea, especially after finding out residential road repaving suffered because of it. I’m sure that’s one of the biggest reasons Carnahan and Kitchen were elected.
So it seemed politically prudent at the time to move money from the medical corridor back into residential road resurfacing, and then some. In 2018, commissioners moved $8.7 million into resurfacing and have spent $22 million on it since then. It now has everyone’s attention.
Truthfully, it’s anyone’s guess where the sales tax for roads idea came from. The only time I recall commissioners talking about a sales tax increase for roads, it was in the negative. We know Carnahan in September thought it was a done deal but a month later said it has zero chance of passing.
He’s likely correct. The public obviously supports the road paving program but does it consider it the county’s BIGGEST need? Because that’s basically what the county would be saying. This penny sales tax, which could raise an estimated $17 million a year – with a portion paid by our friends the tourists – is BEST used in this fashion.
I doubt voters will consider it the most important. I peruse the county commission email and see complaints about bad roads – and lack of bicycle trails, and loud airboats, and don’t raise my taxes and…you get the drift. Does repave neighborhood streets rise to the level where 50% plus one will vote to tax themselves? Based on what I’ve seen, read and heard, no. Closer to 35% maybe.
Putting a bad referendum on the ballot not only puts the county back in the same financial spot – big problem, no way to pay for it – but it’ll sour the public mood for any kind of sales tax increase for at least two full election cycles, or eight years.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard seemed to sum it up best when the board briefly discussed the sales tax at its Oct. 26 meeting. Sounding like he favors in general a sales tax idea, Kinnard said:
“I’m not sure using it for residential resurfacing gets us there.”
A sales tax increase for publicly supported projects, with huge public buyin, is the way to go. We should target 2024 to allow what will possibly be a county commission with two new faces next year, time to gel with each other and the public.
Sales tax increase? Perhaps. But not for this. Commissioners should leave this idea by the side of the road.
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.