By DOTTY NIST
New state legislation has resulted in Walton County officials delaying the date for a county voter referendum on a new half-cent sales tax.
The Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) discussed the new law at their April 24 regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse—and opted to move forward with placing the referendum on the ballot nine months later than had been anticipated.
On March 27, the BCC had voted to put the referendum on the August 2018 Primary Election ballot.
Making that plan impractical was legislation signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott on March 23 (HB 7087) that included a provision setting a requirement for a performance audit to be conducted by a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in connection with adoption of new sales taxes by local governments.
The provision is part of a 118-page law entitled “Taxation,” and becomes effective on July 1.
The required audit, along with associated findings, recommendations, etc., will have to be completed and publicly posted 60 days in advance of the date of the referendum on the proposed sales tax.
The legislation details that the audit is to entail an examination of the program to be funded by the tax, to include, “the economy, efficiency, or effectiveness of the program,” its structure or design to accomplish goals/objectives, alternate methods for providing the services that the tax would fund, goals/objectives/performance measures to monitor and report program accomplishments, and compliance of the program with appropriate policies, rules and laws.
At the April 24 BCC meeting, Sidney Noyes, county attorney, advised the commissioners that it would not be possible to have the referendum on the August 2018 Primary Election ballot. She presented the options of putting it either on the ballot for the 2018 General Election in November or that of the 2019 Special School Board Referendum Election in May.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander responded that she did not see how the county would be able to “do justice” to the new requirements in time for the general election, so that she thought “going in” with the school board with a referendum on the new sales tax at the special election would allow for sufficient time. She motioned to do the latter.
The motion was approved 4-0 with no member of the public coming forward to offer comment, and with Noyes pledging to work with the school board and set a public hearing to get the half-cent sales tax referendum on the May 2019 special election ballot.
The school board referendum is for the continuation of a half-mil increase on school taxes to be used in the general fund budget. The half-mil has been offset by the school district dropping the Capital Millage Outlay millage by a half-mil since the original approval of the referendum, with several approvals by voters having taken place over the years.
In 2017, Walton County Public Works had been tasked with compiling a list of needed projects that could be funded through the potential half-cent sales tax for infrastructure, and that information had been presented at public workshops in spring 2017. Information presented had stated that the tax would be used to “fund the development, construction, operation and maintenance of roads and bridges proposed by County Government.”
Categories of proposed improvements included “Dirt to Pave Improvements,” a Seagrove bypass road, bridge construction, resurfacing and pavement management, and milled asphalt rejuvenation, with a total of $60 million for the five categories. A list of identified proposed projects, along with cost associated with each project, was included under each category in the presentation.
The presentation may be viewed at the link: https://tinyurl.com/ya3px94g