Reluctantly, a vote for the sales tax

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Column by Jim Clark

Accountability. It’s a word we’ve heard a lot this campaign season and, although it’s a bit late, it’s starting to creep in to the discussion about the local option sales tax.
Next Tuesday, March 15, the presidential primary will take place in Florida. Here in Marion County, there’s an additional item on the ballot – an initiative to raise the amount of the local sales tax one percent.
The recent history of tax issues is jumbled. In recent years, voters rejected a tax that would have helped the hospital district. As a result, Munroe Regional Medical Center has been leased out, and the county has pretty much lost control of the hospital.
On the flip side, voters passed a tax to help our local schools. A panel has been set up to monitor how the money is spent, and all the hullabaloo has died to a point where it’s rarely discussed.
Now we come to the proposed tax, which is described has having two main purposes: roads and public safety.
The roads part is what is starting to draw opposition. We already pay more for gas than at least one neighboring county, because of a tax that was supposed to help pay for road improvements. Opponents of next week’s initiative are demanding accountability as to where that money is being spent and why we need more.
The public safety portion isn’t what’s bringing opponents out into the open. Over the past year, we’ve heard all sorts of pleas concerning the Sheriff’s Office and Marion County Fire Rescue. Most of what needs to be done takes money.
We are lucky to live in Florida, where the cost of living is low, and that includes taxes.
If you don’t believe me, try an experiment. I’m from New Jersey, so I did it with that state. Pick a town, any town, and search for real estate available, and note the cost of houses that are decades old. Then look up that property to see what the annual taxes are. That will quickly show you why we’re grateful to be here.
We should realize how desperate the need is for more funding because of our county commissioners. This group has been a “no new taxes” crowd for years. In addition to not approving new taxes, there were at least two instances when they wouldn’t even let us vote, as un-American as it gets. One was Amendment 11, a tax break for veterans, and the other was for a baseball stadium to attract a Minor League team.
But suddenly the commissioners have come out and said we need this tax, and they voted 5-0 to put it on the ballot. That change of philosophy tells me there’s a real need, and maybe there’s a hidden admission that the commissioners got us into this mess to begin with.
I just wish the item would include a committee to monitor the spending that goes with it, much as the schools have done.
However, somewhat reluctantly, I’m going to vote in favor of the sales tax. And within a couple of months after it takes effect, the extra penny per dollar will hardly stir anyone’s emotion. History has shown that to be likely.
This column, however, could be the kiss of death. I voted for the hospital tax, and it lost. I voted against the school tax, and it passed. We’ll see if my streak continues.

Jim Clark is the editor of the West Marion Messenger and South Marion Citizen.