Friday, December 2, 2022

Sales Tax Issue is Front and Center at Forum

On Tuesday, November 6, the election may be one in which voters find themselves spending an inordinate amount of time reading ballot questions if they choose to come to the polls, rather than requesting a mail-in ballot.

Everything from eight constitutional revision questions, three legislative proposal items, two citizen initiatives and one local Collier County question will face voters on that day. “Because of the number of initiatives, their complexity and the length of time it will take, we urge voters to request mail-in or absentee ballots to help with the process,” said Jennifer Edwards, the Supervisor of Elections for Collier County.

One of those initiatives deals with a 1% increase in the local sales tax paid for goods and services within Collier County. Presently residents and visitors pay a 6% tax, and the increase would be in effect from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2025, when the additional 1% increase would sunset if passed in November.

Earlier this month, residents gathered at the Moorings Park Auditorium in North Naples for a forum on the proposed increase, which will be on the ballot on November 6. They heard from both proponents and opponents of the ballot initiative, which is estimated to raise $490 million.

Local attorney and community activist Patrick Neale gave the attendees an overview and history of the ballot initiative that will be voted upon in November. He also introduced Michael Dalby, the President and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, who spoke of the positive aspects of what could be accomplished if the initiative is passed, and Ron Kezeske, chairman of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee, who would oppose the referendum.

Dalby emphasized the need for increased workforce training to assist with the growing economy and local business boom. Fifteen million dollars is aimed at creating a new technical training center to be constructed on the campus of Florida South Western State College. He also spoke in regards to the $130 million in infrastructure spending for bridges and roads and a $25 million expansion of the David Lawrence Center, the local mental health facility, amongst a number of other items.

Kezeske argued that an increase might put the county in an uncompetitive position with surrounding areas. He also questioned whether the list of projects were, “Nice-to-haves, versus needs.” Instead of raising taxes on residents, he urged that the “fat” in the county budget be carefully scrutinized and reduced. He would go on to insist that the county should be attracting good, strong businesses instead of relying on taxing its residents.

The monies raised would be split between the county and the cities within Collier County. The county would receive $420 million and the cities would receive the additional $70 million. Those dollars would have to be used for transportation, facilities and capital replacement projects, and community priorities.

The county has already prioritized its spending plans, but those may even change so long as they stay within those three categories. The City of Marco Island has yet to hold a public hearing on what they would anticipate spending their monies on should the tax plan pass.

The tax increase would not apply to food or medicine. The first $5,000 of a major purchase would only be taxed as part of the plan. Total income realized from the plan would be capped at $490 million and the sales tax rate would be returned to 6% if the $490 million is reached before the sun setting of the increase on December 31, 2025.

In April of this year, Commissioner Donna Fiala voted against the wording of the ballot language along with Commissioner Bill McDaniel. Commissioner Burt Saunders had stated earlier that it would be “problematic” to have only three of the five commissioners in favor of a ballot initiative such as this.

State Representative Bob Rommel, an outspoken critic of the proposed increase, and Collier Commissioner Penny Taylor who supports the proposal but wants safeguards to prevent changes in spending priorities, were both in attendance, listening intently to the debate.

Fiala questioned the initiative due to its impact on local business owners, saying, “We are trying to encourage business here in the county.”

The referendum on raising the sales tax to 7% will appear on the November ballot for all Collier County residents to vote upon.

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