We may loathe taxes, but we love our community more

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Posted November 6, 2020 | By Brad Rogers, Ocala Gazette

“I hate paying taxes. But I love the civilization they give me. — Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

Listen to most politicians these days, and their message on taxes is pretty simple. Taxes, especially new ones, are a bad thing. And, for the most part, voters like that in their elected leaders because, like Holmes, no one loves paying taxes.

But also like Holmes, we, as citizens, understand that if we want to live in a decent place, it requires money. Sometimes it requires more money than our governments have and that means raising taxes.

Marion County voters on Tuesday once again showed that while they may not love taxes, they love living in a community that is safe and sound – and it’s worth investing to keep it that way. A remarkable 73 percent of Marion County voters said yes to renewing a 1 percent local option sales tax for four more years. The tax is expected to raise more than $196 million between Jan. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2024.

You can do a lot with $196 million. And county officials made sure voters knew exactly what they are going to get for their money – again. Rehab of our jail and animal shelter. New fire and EMS stations. New police cars, fire trucks and ambulances. And, of course, new roads.

And Tuesday’s vote is not an anomaly. It was, again, the second time Marion County voters had imposed the sales tax on themselves. That proponents claim 30 percent of all sales tax revenues in our community come from tourists and the estimated 80,000 people who commute to Marion County each day to work made for a pretty good sales pitch.

Oh, the first time the sales tax passed, it garnered just 55 percent of the vote. This time it was 73 percent. Maybe people do love certain kinds of taxes.

And it’s not just the county’s sales tax with its appeal of being shared by all. Marion County voters have also approved a 1-mill property tax on themselves for the schools. Twice. In 2014 and again in 2018 voters approved the property tax hike so the school district could hire art, music and physical education teachers as well as librarians and teachers’ aides.

That tax generated $69.3 million in its first four years. In the first year of its second four-year run – like the sales tax, it is subject to voter review after four years – it generated $20.3 million.

What has that meant to our schools? To start with, 450 teacher, teacher aide and librarian jobs. School Board member Kelly King noted at a recent meeting that, if not for the 1 mill, the school district would have to lay off hundreds of people.

So why are voters who hate taxes imposed by their elected leaders so willing to impose taxes on themselves at the ballot box? Two things, I think.

One, both the sales tax and school tax referendums laid out specifically what we the people would get for our money. The school tax referendum even requires a citizen committee, known as the Independent Citizens Referendum Oversight Committee, or ICROC, to issue an annual report to assure voters the money is being exactly spent on what voters were told it would spent on.

Second, the citizenry is not ignorant. Most of the stuff these two taxes pay for are essential in nature. Plus, these taxes boost first responders and teachers, two groups the public respects and whose value to society is understood. When police cars and ambulances are breaking down because they are old and worn out, that’s not in our best interest. We want cops and paramedics to be able to show up when we call them. When we do not have enough money to hire art, music and P.E. teachers, that’s not in our best interest.

The other thing, and our elected leaders recognize this, both these taxes have strong accountability mechanisms to ensure our elected and appointed governmental leaders are fulfilling the will of the voters, that is, the taxpayers.

After Tuesday night’s sales tax victory, County Commissioner Kathy Bryant told the Gazette: “I’m very happy that the citizens of Marion County have confidence in us and see what we’ve done and have voted to renew the sales tax. I think it was a statement that we did what we said we’d do with the first tax.”

Yep, doing what the voters ask indeed fosters trust. What a refreshing message – this week, particularly.

Also, we all want good public safety. We all want to be able to get around Marion County with relative ease. We all want our children and grandchildren to get a well-rounded education that includes art, music and P.E.

So, good job, Marion County. Thomas Jefferson’s famous line, “That government is best which governs least,” has been bastardized over the years into “The best government is that which is closest to the people.” Well, you can’t get much closer to the people than their own ballot, and when given the facts, the power and the assurance that their will will be carried out, it turns out people don’t exactly hate taxes, and sometimes are even willing to impose new taxes on themselves – over and over.

All because, yes, they may hate paying taxes, but they love the community they live in more.

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