Destin to consider sales tax referendum


TONY JUDNICH @Tonyjnwfdn

DESTIN — The City Council on Monday plans to consider whether to support a resolution that calls for a referendum on whether to levy a half-cent sales tax for five years in Okaloosa County.

The tax is being proposed by the executive board of the Okaloosa County League of Cities as a way to fund capital improvement projects in the county and its nine municipalities.

Each municipality is being asked to consider the resolution in May. If at least a majority of them support it, the resolution would go before the County Commission to decide whether to eventually put a referendum before voters.

The state sales tax in Okaloosa County is now 6 percent. Sales tax collections go directly to the state, and revenue from a half cent of the overall tax is returned to the county, which shares the money with its municipalities. The county does not charge its own sales tax.

If approved by voters, the half-cent sales tax would increase the overall sales tax in the county to 6.5 percent, or 65 cents per $10 purchase.

Late last year, local chambers of commerce and other groups led initiatives for two separate half-cent sales taxes that they said would help pay for county and school district infrastructure projects. However, those proposals fizzled out after they failed to be embraced by county and school district officials.

Valparaiso Mayor and League of Cities board member Heyward Strong said Friday he is aware of those failures.

Strong said the board is “just getting the opinions of the cities” on the tax, which could generate about $640,000 annually for Valparaiso.

“The major recession we had had a major impact on our city and the other cities,” he said. “Our streets need to be improved. I do not feel comfortable raising ad valorem taxes, but a half-cent sales tax would generate a lot of money. We could catch up on some (projects) that we haven’t been able to do in the last five years.”

The tax would generate more than $23 million annually, according to League of Cities information. Of that, the county would receive 57.2 percent, or $13.4 million, and the remaining moeny would be shared among the municipalities.

Strong said the League of Cities board members did not specify a date for when voters might be able to vote on the tax. Information about the tax in Monday’s Destin City Council’s meeting agenda includes “a November 2017 Voter Referendum.”

That time frame was in the League’s draft resolution but is incorrect, Strong said. He said perhaps the referendum could be a part of next March’s municipal elections.

“We don’t want to wait until November 2018,” when the next general election takes place, Strong said.

Destin Mayor and League of Cities board member Scott Fischer said he doesn’t know whether the City Council will approve the resolution to support a sales tax referendum. In the city’s form of government, Fischer generally does not vote at council meetings.

“We’ve got some road issues that need to be addressed, and there are other areas that the (possible tax) money could be used for,” he said Friday. “But the issue really needs to be discussed by the council. Monday night will kind of be the opening round of ‘What do you think?’ and ‘What we would do with the money?’”

The Destin City Council will meet at 6 p.m. at the City Hall Annex at 4100 Indian Bayou Trail.