Sales tax eyed

Posted on October 9, 2015 by Deborah Nelson

Santa Rosa leaders say if voters don’t approve a new sales tax, they’ll likely have “no choice” but to hike property taxes.
“Not that that’s a threat, but it’s a reality,” Commissioner Bob Cole said at Monday’s Commission meeting.
“If we do not get a LOST [local option sales tax] passed, we will likely have to increase ad valorem taxes to keep services at current levels,” Commissioner Rob Williamson added.
The Board’s eyeing putting a “multi-function” sales tax to voters in August. The tax may be used for a range of capital expenses.
Officials say they need money for more than the new courthouse targeted by previous attempts to pass sales tax hikes.

“I think a lot of people want us to be a one-pony show, but I think we’re too big for that,” Commission Chair Don Salter said. “We’ve got too many needs.”
Talk of more taxes comes on the heels of a six-cent increase in gas taxes; to 12 cents per gallon; and a 3 percent property tax hike this year.
The county opted out of a 6 percent property tax hike earlier this year, and only raised property taxes by 3 percent. To even out the budget, the county raised the local gas tax from 6 to 12 cents, but did so because they were behind with neighboring counties on that tax. The vendors will eat up most of the gas tax increase.
The gas tax increase is expected generate another $600,000 per year, per cent; or about $3.6 million. The property tax increase generates another $1.4 million.
The Board passed the gas and property tax hikes without the need for a public vote.
Officials, at the time, emphasized they hadn’t raised the property tax millage rate. But property values increased, thus producing more revenue from the same rate and enacting a de facto tax hike.
Meanwhile, SRC is getting rid of transportation impact fees. Impact fees charge developers for the added traffic brought by new construction.
The county established them in 2005 and raised $9.48 million between 2006 and 2008, before suspending their collection; to stimulate the economy, commissioners said. Commissioners unanimously voted to repeal the impact fees at their Thursday morning meeting after a public hearing on the matter.
The fees have been unpopular with developers. Cole says they’re not the only ones objecting.
“The feeling of the general public right now is they don’t want impact fees,” he remarked Monday.
East Milton resident and former Commission candidate Wallis Mahute disagreed. She urged the Board not to repeal the fees at their Monday meeting in Milton
“Six [years of no fees] times six is 36,” she remarked. “So $36 million has been lost because the fees were not in place.”
Commissioners say they need more revenues for Sheriff’s Office equipment, parks and recreation facilities, stormwater projects and a new courthouse. The Sheriff’s budget increased $4.1 million this year.
Other new expenses include $943,256 more in shared Medicaid costs and County employee raises in 2014 and 2015. The raises cost $1.3 million per year, which was initially taken from nonrecurring funds like reserves.
Officials say they’re aiming to place the sales tax vote on the August 2016 ballot.