20-year renewal for penny sales tax to be on the ballot in 2024

File photo: Motorists drive across uneven lanes and negotiate barriers where State Road 200 has not been completely resurfaced near I-75 in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. The Florida DOT project has been ongoing for more than two years. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted December 13, 2023 | By Caroline Brauchler

Voters will see a measure on the 2024 general election ballot asking them to approve a 20-year renewal for the penny sales tax after the Marion County Commission approved the move on Dec. 5.

The “penny,” or 1% sales tax, was first approved by voters in 2016 and increased the sales tax in Marion County from 6% to 7% in order to fund improvements to infrastructure and public safety.

The list of the projects to be funded by the tax will be finalized and presented to the public in March. Tentatively, the projects will need about $1.3 billion in funding from the penny sales tax to be completed.

Marion County renewed the tax for another four-year period in 2020, but now the commission is asking voters to renew the tax for 20 years so that the county can have the financial security to complete road and transportation projects, fund the sheriff’s office, fire department and build a new animal shelter.

Among Florida’s 67 counties, 27 levy the infrastructure sales tax. Duval and Hillsborough counties implement the tax for a 30-year term, while Clay, Leon, Osceola and Wakulla counties collect the tax for a 20-year period. Marion’s current term of four years is the shortest term in the state.

Roads and transportation infrastructure make up about 70% of the priority projects listed for funding from the tax. Public safetyincluding sheriff, fire and EMS-related projectsmake up the other 30%.

“If I was going to build a house, and I only had four years of income, how much house could I build? Not much,” Commissioner Craig Curry said before the ordinance was put to a vote.

Curry’s analogy reflects the commission’s belief that the 20-year extension for the tax is crucial for not only starting to solve problems with roads and infrastructure but to safeguard the county’s ability to finish them.

The greatest portion of the revenue expected to be generated by the tax over the next 20 years, $854.4 million, would go toward roads and transportation projects. Marion County has over 2,500 miles of road network, 1,200 miles of which need to be resurfaced or reconstructed. About $180 million will be devoted solely to rehabilitating roads that are in poor or failing condition.

Capacity projects, such as expanding or extending existing roadways to accommodate the large influx of residents and visitors that the county expects to see, will need $667.5 million over the next 20 years from the penny sales tax.

The county is working in partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation on a number of projects, including an Interstate 75 interchange at 49th Street and an I-75 expansion project to add a lane in each direction to the highway.

The county has also identified a need for a new traffic management center, which would cost $6.5 million.

While Commissioners Carl Zalak and Matt McClain voted in favor of the sales tax, both expressed a desire to have the voters approve the tax for a shorter period of time. Ultimately, the commissioners voted to put the renewal on the 2024 ballot for a 20-year term in an effort to ensure that the county can allocate funds to the necessary issues to support growth.

“Twenty years allows us to know that we’re going to have those dollars to be able to plan for the future and to be able to plan for the growth that we are seeing,” said Vice-Chair Kathy Bryant. “People are coming to Florida in droves. We know that they’re coming to Marion County in droves.”

A full list of the priority projects and more details about the penny sales tax can be found at marionsalestax.org.

I will always support the sales tax again because it helps keep our millage rate low, which in turn helps us to have a lower property taxes in our community,” Bryant said.

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