Hold on to your wallet: No fiscal boundaries in BCC sales tax plan

 

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: The Martin County Board of County Commissioners will engage in another discussion of the proposed 1% local sales tax surcharge this week.  And while it is hard to imagine that the three Commissioners who support the proposal can make it any more fiscally irresponsible, taxpayers should hold on to their wallets during Tuesday’sBCC meeting.  

An ordinance to implement the sales tax surcharge is the major item on a very limited agenda.  Commissioners Doug Smith, Ed Ciampi and Harold Jenkins have responded to citizen pleas to restrict the use of anticipated revenues from the sales tax increase by expanding authorized expenditures to include virtually any new project that can be dreamed up by commissioners who know no fiscal bounds.

Voters have been assured the FPL Franchise Fee will be reduced to offset the sales tax increase. (The Franchise Fee is a minimum of .5% to a maximum of 6% of customers’ monthly electric utility bills.  The fee is collected by FPL and paid to Martin County in exchange for an agreement that the County will refrain from establishing a competing utility service.)  

It has taken less than a week to break a promise to present a companion ordinance to reduce the FPL Franchise Fee to .5% if the sales tax hike is approved by voters.  Tuesday’s Agenda contains no such proposed ordinance, and there is no reference in the sales tax hike ordinance to any reduction in the FPL Franchise Fee.

Nonetheless, Commissioners Smith, Ciampi and Jenkins continue to urge voters to “trust us” by approving deceptive ballot language and an ordinance that authorizes sales tax proceeds to be used to build costly new projects without any assurance that the existing infrastructure backlog will be reduced.

The ballot question for the “infrastructure sales surtax” says voters must approve a “one cent sales surtax” in order “to protect the environment and safeguard Martin County’s quality of life.”  

But nowhere in the ballot language or in the ordinance are voters informed that the “one cent” surtax is actually a 17% increase — from 6% to 7% — in the sales tax.  The increase is one cent on every dollar spent, not one cent on every purchase.

Nowhere in the ballot language or in the ordinance are voters informed that projects that have nothing to do with protecting the environment or safeguarding quality of life (whatever that means) are high on the list of planned expenditures.

And nowhere in the ballot language or in the ordinance are voters advised that “infrastructure” does not mean roads, bridges, culverts and drainage systems.  “Infrastructure” means any project, building, equipment, or vehicle that is expected to last 5 years.

To compound the deception of the language and broken promises, there is a rush to get the measure on the August 29 ballot rather than to wait for a general election when more voters will likely participate.  Commissioners Smith, Ciampi and Jenkins apparently hope to fool some but not all of the voters by putting the question on a ballot that fewer voters are likely to see.

Adding insult to injury, since the August 29 election is intended only to give Stuart residents an opportunity to elect City Commissioners (if there are any contested races), Martin County taxpayers will have to pay the Supervisor of Elections an additional $110,000.00 to conduct the sales tax referendum at that time.

Commissioners Smith, Ciampi and Jenkins apparently are counting on winning approval for the sales tax hike by limiting the time available for voters to get accurate information about the proposal and by limiting the number of voters who will likely participate in the referendum.

Commissioners Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding have opposed the sales tax hike from the outset and will likely continue to oppose the expanded version that will be presented for a final vote on Tuesday (Agenda Item 6A).

In other matters on Tuesday’s agenda:

— Commissioners will hear a presentation by Indian River Lagoon Observatory Director Dr. Dennis Hanisak on the Land/Ocean Biogeochemical Observatory Network that is used to obtain data regarding the effects of human activities on the Indian River Lagoon ecosystem (Agenda Item 7A)

— Approval will be sought to borrow nearly $5 million for the County to purchase property at Willoughby Commons to re-locate the Property Appraiser and Utilities and Solid Waste Department (Agenda Item 8A1)

— A presentation on the U.S. Highway 27 project will be made to update Commissioners on the effort to provide an alternative freight rail route along the western corridor.  For more information,  click on “US Highway 27 Project” at the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council website: http://www.tcrpc.org/

Download or view all agenda items at:
Attend the BCC meeting at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday at the Administration Center, 2401 SE Monterey Road, Stuart, or let commissioners know how you feel about these issues by e-mailing sheard@martin.fl.us, efieldin@martin.fl.us, hjenkins@martin.fl.us, eciampi@martin.fl.us, and dsmith@martin.fl.us, with copies to the County Administrator and the County Attorney at tkryzda@martin.fl.us and swoods@martin.fl.us.

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