Our tax system provides few options for our local elected boards to levy taxes.

The Martin County School District will be asking for the renewal of the ½ cent sales tax to be used primarily for teacher bonuses this year. MCTA will address that in a subsequent article.

At the last BOCC meeting, the board voted 4-1 to have staff come back with an ordinance and ballot language for another ½ cent sales tax to buy preserve lands in Pal Mar, IRL South, and the Loxa-Lucie. Because most of these properties are wetlands, development is not likely. It is important to preserve most of these lands because they constitute a natural flow way from the north to the south which provides stormwater with a place to go.

The sales tax was brought up at the meeting because staff had been instructed to come back with how to proceed with one. It appeared that not every commissioner was on board with how to move ahead. This was the same meeting where the board voted 3-2 to transmit the “rural lifestyle” comp plan amendment to the state for approval. There were many residents upset about that. The question is would that affect this?

Commissioner Heard believes that the commission is now not credible in the eyes of residents because of how this morning’s vote went. Commissioner Ciampi was flat out against a sales tax increase because of the increased cost of living his constituents bare. Both Commissioners Smith and Jenkins were very much in favor. Commissioner Hetherington seemed not yet ready to take a stand.

The sales tax in Martin County is currently 7% including the ½ cent that the school district wants to be renewed this year. If the county is successful in implementing the ½ cent, residents will then pay 7.5% sales tax.

What exactly is the sales tax for? The tax would be to purchase the lands I cited above. The question is will it be broadened to include other things?

In 2017, a sales tax was proposed to buy conservation land. It became more and more encompassing and would be used not only for conservation land but also for things like new buildings. The language on the ballot was as follows:

In order to protect the environment and safeguard Martin County’s quality of life, shall Martin County levy an additional one-cent sales surtax for 10 years to provide funding for: Water quality projects that reduce pollutants to our estuaries; Projects to construct and reconstruct county facilities including Sheriff, Fire Rescue, and Public Works facilities; and for reconstruction of road infrastructure? Are projects subject to annual review and approval at a public hearing?

It failed by almost 2-1. An earlier sales tax had been used to build things like Sailfish Splash Park which was not what some voters intended when it was approved. Since then, there has been distrust between the county government and voters on this issue.

We are not taking a position on whether to vote in favor of or against this ½ cent sales tax. We do believe that if one is placed on the ballot, it should be narrowly defined to be used for the buying of specific property for conservation only. The enabling language within the ordinance should have legal descriptions of where the land is located.

If passed, there can be no room for the government to use the funds for any other purpose but to buy lands that are specifically for conservation. The 2017 initiative became a grab bag for commissioners’ desires and not what the original intent was. The voters did the right thing in not passing that initiative.

MCTA will examine the ballot language and that of the ordinance and render an opinion on whether it will meet the intentions of buying only conservation land.