Everyone have a nice Easter? Plenty of ham, turkey and chocolate bunnies? Good. Let’s start the post-Easter week by talking about county taxes.
As in, they’re likely going up.
And that’s not a bad thing if done correctly.
The county commission is already warning taxpayers to expect a property tax increase to help pay for mental-health services, residential road resurfacing and EMS. All of these things are necessary and need funding.
And it’s possible Sheriff Mike Prendergast’s budget will require a further dip into the property tax pool. Considering what Citrus County faces, his ask for more deputies and better pay doesn’t seem out of line.
(The county will want to get specific with him about what is spent and where. You’d think that’s obvious, but commissioners, particularly Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr., have complained repeatedly about getting simple budget numbers from the sheriff’s office.)
But I’m not here today to talk about a property tax increase, though we should all be ready for this discussion probably in a fairly short time.
It’s the sales tax that’s the tax monster in Citrus County, because everyone wants to grab it.
You may recall the county last year toying with the idea of asking voters to bump the sales tax a penny to pay for neighborhood road repaving. The argument seemed sound — to get on a decent road-paving cycle, the county would need much more money and what better way to do that than in a sales tax. Besides, we’ve heard, tourists would cover a quarter of it.
The argument had logic from a government standpoint, but not a realistic one. There’s no way Citrus County voters are going to approve a sales tax solely to repave neighborhood streets. Sure, it would pass big time in Citrus Springs and Pine Ridge. But everywhere else — other than a smattering of support, it’s destined for failure.
If you need to know reasons, here are obvious ones:
— Doesn’t benefit everyone. If I live in a gated community or private road, I get zilch out of that.
— Same argument, sort of, is the person whose road either doesn’t need resurfacing or had it done recently. I guess you’d hope someone’s conscience would vote for it, but don’t hold your breath.
— The argument that we’re somehow a more attractive community if we maintain our neighborhood roads is certainly a sound one. However, because the process has been politicized, we haven’t considered alternatives.
This is what I mean: The entire neighborhood road repaving pie is divided evenly among the five county commission districts. From a political standpoint, sure makes sense. But it doesn’t address the worst roads first. Everyone knows Citrus Springs and Pine Ridge have the worst neighborhood streets in the county. Yet, their District 3 gets 20% like everyone else.
I realize the political storm that would erupt if the county spent, say, 50% on the absolute worst roads and split the rest five ways. But if the challenge is truly to get on a repaving cycle, logic says most of the money should go to the worst roads first, regardless of their location.
So when county commissioners started talking last week about, hey, maybe citizens will support a HALF-CENT sales tax increase for road resurfacing, once again my mind went to the “what are they thinking” category.
This isn’t a subject to break down in one day. I just want to get the idea out there.
I’ll leave with this to chew on: A sales tax referendum is not a horrible idea, but shoving one before us without a very serious well-rounded community conversation first is not the way to go. We blow this one, we won’t get another chance for 10 years at least.
And I certainly hope neither commissioners nor sheriff think they can pull it off this year.
This is where my head is:
We have a sales tax referendum on the 2024 general election ballot. Part of it goes to repave roads; part of it buys property such as Pirates Cove to save for generations; part of it potentially goes to the sheriff's office for its marine units on both the coast and lakes sides of the county. Or other ideas to consider. And all the money is leveraged with state and federal dollars to do the things in Citrus County that we really want and need to do.
Yup, that’s a mouth full. We’ll digest it another time.
Have a great Citrus County Monday my friends.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.