Every morning this week we’re taking a look at the amendments Florida voters will see on the ballot. Today we’re tackling Leon County’s One Cent Local Government Sur Tax Extension. Okaying the measure means a 20-year extension for a one penny tax shoppers have been paying for decades.
Since 1989 the extra 1 percent sales tax has helped pay for road and public safety projects. More recently the use for that money has expanded. Now it covers the cost of sidewalks, parks, and storm water projects. Kim Williams works with the group Leon Alliance for a Better community.
“One of the great assets of the current penny tax that we’ve all seen come to fruition is Cascades Park and we were planning to be in Cascades Park this morning, but more importantly, Cascades Park is acting out its other role in our community, which is storm water retention and preventing the flooding on the Southside of Tallahassee,” Willliams says.
Cascades Park is one of the city’s newest penny sales tax projects. Officials say the park will help boost economic development efforts in the Gaines Street area and attract new business. All of that of course comes at a price: An extra penny for every dollar shoppers spend. It’s an additional one-percent on top of the sales tax the state requires. It can add up. But for most purchases the extra tax applies only to the first $5,000 on a single item. On the purchase of a $20,000 car in Tallahassee, for example, citizens would pay an extra $50 in sales tax.* That’s a cost some would say is worth it.
Cole Armstrong lives in Tallahassee. He’s on his way back to his car after a stop for lunch at the FSU golf course. While he says he hasn’t visited Cascades Park yet, he’s happy to know he helped pay for it.
“It’s something that I hadn’t noticed and actually I didn’t even know anything about it until I was told and definitely if the public works can benefit from a one-percent sales tax that’s something that is beneficial and should be continued," Armstrong says.
And just because Armstrong hasn’t used Cascades Park, doesn’t mean he hasn’t used other projects the penny tax has paid for. Assistant City Manager Michelle Bono says there have been quite a few since the tax first went into place.
“Thomasville Road, people think has been like that for a long time, well that was a sales tax project that improved the road and expanded it and orange avenue and Blair stone Road and Capital Circle -- actually the work is still going on closer to the airport on the West side of town,” Bono says.
But that question-- is it worth it-- if you’re a voter in Tallahassee or Leon County, that’s up to you.
Most of the money goes to the group Blue Print 2,000 for joint city and county projects. Often officials use that money to get more through matching grants. If voters decided to extend the penny tax officials already have plan for how they’ll it.
“And one of the reasons is because when we work on this process is takes sometimes years of planning so if you say today we’re going to have money to do this we start working on the plans and the priorities because you go through design and you go through permitting. It just is a process to go through," Bono says.
Voters can learn more about the tax extension and see plans for how the next 20 years of money could be spent on the website leonpenny.org. Bono says a vote against the tax doesn’t mean those projects won’t get completed, but she says without that revenue it’ll be up to officials to choose priorities and find alternative funding sources.
*An original version of this story calculated the extra tax paid based on the full cost of the car, but local discretionary sales taxes are applied to just the first $5,000 of most single item purchases. So rather than paying an extra $200 for the penny sales tax, Leon County shoppers would pay an extra $50.