BROOKSVILLE — The county is growing rapidly and has significant infrastructure needs, so Hernando County Commissioners discussed Oct. 26 imposing a half-cent sales tax on the ballot. vote in November 2022.
According to County Administrator Jeff Rogers’ presentation, the half-cent would generate nearly $13.9 million if voters approved it. It would enter into force in January 2023.
The current sales tax in Hernando County is 6.5%, and the Rogers slides compare the county to other neighboring counties in Florida. Levy, Sumter, Lake, Pasco and Marion have rates of 7% and Hillsborough has a rate of 7.5%. While Citrus has a 6% sales tax rate, its executives are considering a 1-cent hike for roadwork.
The county’s roads need to be widened and widened, Commission Chairman John Allocco said, and the gas tax that would pay for the work yields less because of more fuel-efficient vehicles and electric vehicles. He said the county was being hit with higher ad valorem taxes to make up the difference.
“We have major road needs in Hernando County,” he said, and “smaller recreation needs, but we still have needs. Let the community decide if they want to do it.
Commissioner Steve Champion said while he’s not a fan of taxes, he thinks it can be done while lowering property taxes.
“We would like to have a tax that everyone pays instead of people paying taxes on their homes,” he said. “If we can collect universally, we should. For parks, we could do a lot.
Commissioners agreed that citizens might be more inclined to raise the sales tax if they saw it as a way to reduce traffic congestion and improve parks and recreation. There has been talk of an 80-10-10 split, with 80% going to roads, 10% to parks and recreation (also called “quality of life”), and 10% to economic development, but the last element could be considered as an effort to donate money to a giant corporation, like Amazon.
People will vote for parks and recreation, Allocco said, and Champion added that they would not vote for economic development.
There have been long discussions about using the 10% for public safety instead, as advocated by Commissioner Jeff Holcomb. “I’m saying public safety helps sell this thing,” he said.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes argued there shouldn’t be more than roads and parks because public safety has the best funding it’s had in years. “I’m concerned about people who are going to read this thing,” he said.
Allocco agreed with Dukes. “I love our public safety, but I think we can get other funding for that,” Allocco said.
County Attorney Jon Jouben said they needed to keep the motion simple, and Commissioner Beth Narverud agreed.
Champion said they all need to keep in mind that one of the goals was to reduce ad valorem taxes, and Rogers said that could be expressed as a stretch goal.
Champion said they all need to be united on the issue. A motion to include public safety passed 4-1, but a motion without public safety passed 5-0.
The next step will be an announced public hearing in November where the order will be considered, and then before December 1, an order placed on the November 2022 ballot.
In other actions
• Waterworks operator John Watson was honored for his actions at 7 p.m. on September 19. He was driving on Elgin Boulevard on rounds to check water works, utilities manager Gordon Onderdonk said, when he saw a car spiral out of control, hit a pole and catch fire. Watson got the driver out, but the passenger was trapped in the car and suffered burns from the fire. Watson took a fire extinguisher from his county vehicle and fought the fire. Two other people arrived and were able to free the passenger with the car still on fire and tend to the passenger until firefighters arrived.
• Commissioners voted 5-0 to approve approaching local and state agencies for funding to study the use of fertilizers and pesticides on residential lots near water bodies.
• Commissioners heard a presentation on the proposed redistribution and saw new lines. They approved to go ahead on a 5-0 vote.