Commissioners look toward sales tax increase for public safety

sales tax, marion county fire rescue, marion county sheriff's office, police salary,
Proposed sales tax increase for public safety.

[Last updated on July 28, 2015, at 10:53 p.m.]

Ocala, Florida — Marion County Commissioners unanimously agreed last Tuesday to schedule a workshop to discuss placing a one cent sales tax increase on the ballot in March 2016, amid long standing budget woes.

The issue, brought forth by Marion County Commissioner David Moore, would divide a local option one cent sales tax between public safety and infrastructure needs.

“Continuing to kick the can down the road is no longer an option when it comes to the needs of our community,” Commissioner Moore said in a statement. “One of the major purposes of local government is to provide for the fire/rescue and safety of the residents of Marion County.”

A date has not been set for the workshop, but it could not come soon enough with the hundreds of miles of deteriorating roads and an aging fire rescue and sheriff fleet. Just last week, three ambulances broke down while transporting patients to local emergency rooms; one patient was a heart attack victim.

According to state law, a local option sales tax could come in various forms, but the distribution must be specifically spelled out and voted on during a regularly scheduled election.

For Moore, he would like to see this done in March 2016, during the Presidential Preference Primary.

A proposed sales tax issue was discussed last year and a consulting firm was hired to help get it on the ballot; however, it died when commissioners could not agree on language to put on the ballot in a timely fashion.

Estimates from last year’s proposal showed that a one cent sales tax would generate between $35 million and $40 million of new revenue.

In 2013, the sheriff requested a half-cent sales tax for a term of three years that would have solved the budget problem. Something that many counties have done and continue to do. The commissioners dragged their feet on the proposed plan and by the time they realized the half-cent sales tax would correct budget issues, it was too late.

All municipalities would get a portion of those funds, and it would be divided among them by population, totaling 18 percent of what is generated.

Under Moore’s plan, this would leave approximately $7 million for Fire Rescue, $7 million for the Sheriff’s Office, and $14 million for other infrastructure and utility needs.

Currently, out of the counties that surround Marion County, only Alachua and Citrus counties do not have a local option sales tax.

“I think David showed true leadership on Tuesday by stepping up and proposing this sales tax; and the rest of the commissioners did the right thing by agreeing to a workshop to look into funding essential services,” Ryan O’Reilly, spokesman for the Professional Firefighters of Marion County said.  “Hopefully, these issues can be hammered out appropriately and quickly. We look forward to seeing what they and the community have to say about funding public safety and rebuilding our infrastructure.”

Commissioner Moore seems sincere about wanting to fund public safety.

“I am proposing that the County Commission put a Public Referendum on the March 2016 Presidential Primary election, a one cent sales tax for a period of 3 years commencing 90 days after the certification of the vote,” Commissioner Moore said. “We as a county can no longer ignore these needs of our community, and a sales tax will give the most equitable method to fund these needs.”

A half cent of the tax would be for infrastructure and utilities. The other half cent would be for Public Safety, divided equally for Capital items, between Law Enforcement and Fire Rescue.

Would you support a one cent sales tax increase?

UPDATE

The workshop has been scheduled for Aug. 12 at 9 a.m.

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