LOST: Point/Counter Point

No vote is a LOST opportunity

If the local option sales tax (LOST) proposed on the Oct. 8 special election ballot fails, we will have LOST a lot.

We will have lost $182 million in repaved roads, improved infrastructure, updated equipment for our first responders, stormwater improvements in Holley by the Sea and elsewhere, sidewalks to improve our quality of life, improved traffic calming and the list goes on.

Many of the projects listed, such as widening Woodbine Road, are just outside the county’s reasonable reach.

A couple fast facts about the LOST (courtesy of Santa Rosa County and the TaxWatch Report):

  • Santa Rosa ranks 66 of 67 in level of tax burden among Florida counties with 67 being the lowest amount of burden
  • A penny LOST would amount to about $6 a month for the average citizen, or $72 a year
  • Everyone pays the LOST, including the more than half million tourists that visit Santa Rosa County each year
  • There are approximately $288 million in unfunded needs coming down the pipe over the next 10 years

Sure, the county’s budget is the largest it has ever been, finally catching up to its pre-recession 2007 level. But so is the population. So is the cost of doing business and building.

If every business were still making what it did 12 years ago, the business would likely be failing. Needs grow as the county grows, and grow it certainly has. Without a proper tax base to support it, the county will be unable to maintain the quality of life that brought people here in the first place.

Nobody likes paying taxes, but they are the necessary burden we take on to have a functioning society. The alternatives for meeting the needs are to raise ad valorem taxes which unfairly puts the burden on property owners or to implement impact fees on new construction which are even more narrowly limited, generate only a fraction of what a LOST could and take more than a year to get started.

Given the options available, I’d rather have the tourists help pay to make this place great.

 

Too easy to get LOST

Santa Rosa County has a forecasting problem.

Truly intelligent planning means looking far, far beyond the immediate needs to the needs of the future. It’s a hard thing to do when trying to field the chaos of day-to-day, but essential to smart growth.

For example, let’s say we need a community center to host events averaging 300 people in a growing community. The current approach would say build it to accommodate 300 people and make sure to use the most cost-efficient layout and materials possible. Keep the price low.

A wise approach would look back on the last decade and see explosive growth and the potential for much more. The wise planner would build a facility for 400 or even 500 people, using materials that while more expensive, are longer lasting.

In 10 years, the wise planner may have to do a minor remodel. The current planner will have to build a new community center.

This is the Achilles’ heel of an otherwise frugal county, and the Local Option Sales Tax proposed for the Oct. 8 ballot is just a symptom.

We see all these things that we want for our community: new roads, new sidewalks, new facilities. But we forget to keep a running total in our minds of the costs to maintain all those things.

Maintenance of what we build, planning for the future and managing expectations are not the glamorous aspects of politics and they will not get anyone re-elected, but without this kind of thinking, the county “kicks the can down the road” even by taking action.

And what happens in 10 years if the tax does pass? When citizens are asked to renew it again (assuming it passes at all), all those shiny projects the county invested in to convince the voters to pass the tax will be waiting to gobble up the tax in maintenance, repair and replacement in a vicious cycle that robs us all.

Let’s not get LOST in the cycle of short thinking.

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