How about a half cent for 20 years? That was one sentiment of about 75 people attending the bridge funding meeting in southern Walton. The Task Force is looking at how to fund Walton’s $75 million match to the Florida Department of Transportation for a new southbound Clyde Wells bridge met.
Committee chair Dawn Moliterno said the government will not simply come in and pay for the total project. Walton County already has a one cent sales tax and this was used to determine the approximate payback time. She also explained that the bed tax can not be used for the bridge.
Walton Finance Director Bill Imfeld said, with the current finance conditions, a one cent sales tax could pay off the $75 million in 10 years or less. He said the tax would be sunset after the money is paid back. Imfeld said he is not advocating a tax or a toll and knows that either will effect someone. He noted the law allows up to one cent, but it could be less for a longer pay-off time.
Walton Sheriff Mike Adkinson says the model shows it would take 25 hours to evacuate south Walton. Walton is the second slowest time in the state and with changes in visitor numbers, then the county could even be slower now. Adkinson says he questions the priority when surrounding counties have done well on getting roads paved while Walton has not, even with a slow evacuation time.
Moliterno said, if they do not come up with the $75 million tax, then there will have to be a toll. She said the commissioners would have to vote to toll and if they do not agree, then the funds would go elsewhere. Three options are being looked at to fund the county’s match: to add a sales tax for the bridge use only, to use a toll on the southbound new bridge or let the funds from the FDOT pass for now.
Task Force member Bonnie McQuiston said she is opposed to a tax of any kind. Walton is currently the 4[SUP]th[/SUP] highest and if the additional one cent is added, then they will become the highest. She asked if some of the current sales tax for the garbage collection could be used for the bridge match. Imfeld said, since the tax is for garbage and was put into place by a majority vote of commissioners, it can not be used legally to go against a loan. He said there is not another income source that can be used to go against the $75 million debt.
Task Force member Sheriff Mike Adkinson said he does not believe the board or the Task Force should make a decision as to a tax or a toll. He said it should go before the voters. Adkinson said, if they do not give the voters a chance, then they can place a toll. He said they should spend the next three months educating the voters and then send it to a vote. He said everybody should be involved. Moliterno said the commissioners and the BCC did not set the time line, it was done by the FDOT who has to set their five year work plan and have it ready by June.
Task Force member Wayne Brody asked if Walton wants the state to have control over the bridge funding. Member Kitty Whitney said she understands the need, especially for the businesses the Chamber represents.
Bridge Task Force Public Comments
The first resident asked about the sales tax and the time. Walton Finance Director Bill Imfeld said they can sell bonds or use some other method of getting the money and could take 10, 20 or 30 years to pay it back. The longer they take, the less of a penny would be needed.
Another resident said he is normally opposed to more taxes. He said the bridge is one thing we need and we have to pay for it. He said a toll never ends and puts a burden on people. He said there are no back roads and everybody pays. He said he supports the tax as a method of funding.
Another resident said he grew up in Opp Alabama, a county that went to an additional sales tax and now has very little businesses. He said there is a third option, to have the county commissioners go to Tallahassee and bring back the money. He said the county commissioners let money for U.S. 98 go to Okaloosa in the past. He said Bay County got the Hathaway Bridge reworked and there is no toll. He said the county officials need to do the hard job they were elected to do.
Another resident from Freeport said he and his wife travel to south Walton and would have to pay five days a week. He said the sales tax would effect him less. He also said he likes the idea of the tax being limited to the time it takes to pay it off. He said he supports the one cent sales tax and does so simply by looking at the toll on the Mid Bay Bridge.
Another resident said he is against tolls because they often will be in the future. He said he was here when the garbage tax was put into place and is glad the commissioners did so. He said the garbage tax allowed some of the people who was creating the garbage to help pay for it. He also suggested making both lanes northbound during an evacuation. The Sheriff said they do use contra lanes.
Another Freeport resident said, if he had to choose between the two evils, he would choose the sales tax. He suggested making it half a cent instead of the full penny. He said this might be better, keeping it at seven and a half cent.
Sheriff Adkinson said the Task Force can send wording that would make sure, if the sales tax is used, that it would sunset and would not be extended. He said many fear the sales tax because the do not trust that it will end. Adkinson continued to promote taking the decision to the public. He said he normally supports the elected officials making decisions and representing us, but in this case, he would like the vote.
A south Walton resident said she is in favor of the sales tax because everyone who uses the road will help pay for it. She said it is a sad commentary that people do not want the sales tax because they do not trust the government. She said most feel the one cent is palatable, as long at it has a limit. Wayne Brody said the word irrevocable sometimes means something different to politicians. He said he would want the strongest language.
amen brothers and sisters for your right on comments. a toll or additional property and sales taxes is insane. millions of taxpayer dollars continue to be wasted on insane county employee salaries and a proposed sheriff's office new communication system that fire and rescue personnel say doesn't work. bring spending under control and then let's look at tacking on higher taxes and fees' to us poor folks' here in darlington. done.
The Task Force assigned by the commissioners to look at ways to meet the county’s $75 million match to build a new southbound bridge on U.S. 331 held their second meeting to seek public input. Yesterday afternoon they met in DeFuniak Springs. Around 50 people attended the meeting.
The meeting started with Task Force Chair Dawn Moliterno gave a review of why the need for a recommendation was being made. She explained the FDOT needs an answer before they submit their 5-year work plan in June. She also said, if there needs to be a referendum then it needs 120 days to take place. County Finance Director Bill Imfeld said the county does not have the money but the state will allow the county to place a one cent tax that could be used to pay back a bond or bank financing. The county’s current one cent tax for garbage brings in about $12 million a year and Imfeld said the $75 million could pay off in about 9 to 10 years. Imfeld said the sales tax could sunset after it is paid off and the state would not have a toll with no control by the county.
Moliterno said you can not split between a sales tax and a toll, a sales tax would have to go to the voters and there can be a non irrevocable sunset to the tax. The county can not promote a sales tax if it goes to the vote. The new bridge will go shore to shore not using a causeway like the current bridge and if a toll is used it will not have a booth or employees.
The task Force members spoke first. Sheriff Adkinson reiterated his call to take the matter to the voters. He also noted the bridge is key in more funding for the rest of the highway to I-10. Wayne Brody said there are three choices, toll, tax or not build. Bonnie McQuiston said she is concerned there is such a short time frame, saying the FDOT is, in a way, holding the county hostage. Kitty Whitney talked about the need for a second bridge to help businesses. Leigh Grantham said she feels there has been some misinformation and noted the toll could be more than $2.
As public comments were taken, resident Ron Kelley said no one would dispute the need for four lanes. He said the bridge was designed for a second two lane span, but we are now told that can’t happen. Kelley said he is not in favor of the toll. He said tourists would pay the $2, while the workers would pay $750 a year. He said skimming an extra penny from tourists would be more equitable. He agreed local residents would pay, but would also benefit year around. He talked about the tax benefiting the citizens through safety, economic development and jobs. He told the Task Force to recommend the tax and make the right choice.
Doug Nolin talked about traffic jams during an evacuation. He said some think tourists can solve all Walton’s problems, but feels they might be causing problems. He said he is against any type of tax.
J.B. Hillard recommended placing a toll on the bridge. He asked about the current one cent tax for garbage and asked how it could be used. He questioned the committee’s methods and said he feels they are trying to push it through. He said they need something to justify, not just opinion.
Art Dees asked if the tax is put to referendum and fails, what happens. Moliterno said the commissioners would have to support a toll or let the funds go elsewhere. He asked about a half cent tax. Moliterno said this is a possibility. Imfeld said they have been working with banks and the half cent would take it out to 22 years with an additional $18 million in interest costs. The FDOT expects a toll to be 30 years. The design is shore to shore and does not use the causeway. Dees asked to have that reconsidered.
Robert Carmen said he is apprehensive about the government putting the county in a situation of having to do something now or else. He said he is favor of a toll. Linda Morse agreed, saying she does not think they have a choice and that it is being crammed down the throats of the residents.
Art Miller said the lower cost to build a bridge now is better than it was. He said a toll is like a loan and will cost to pay off. He said a tourist going over the bridge goes once, but a one cent sales tax will put more in the coffers. He also said we need to start looking at the situation as positive, something that will be a benefit.
Cory Godwin talked about the changes in society and the loss of industry. He suggested a tax so changes can happen. Tom Baker suggested the third option, not taking the money and staying with the two lanes.
J.W. Adkinson said he has been trying to get 331 to four lanes since the 60’s. He said a lot of people have worked hard to get it done. He said Walton has problems with traffic, but when you travel the whole state, you realize we are not the only one. He said he feels the one cent sales tax is the smartest and fastest way to pay it out. Adkinson says it does frighten him how another cent will effect businesses.
- Final decision was delayed at least a week
- a referendum will cost about $40,000 to conduct.
Task force will meet at 1:30 p.m. next Thursday at the Walton County Courthouse.
[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]My guess is that it will end up being a toll since we already have among the highest sales tax in the state, tax is a dirty word, and a toll would be a use fee which puts the burden directly on the user instead of business. Tolls are a shame, and they always seem to end up going longer than needed. Too bad we are being pressured by time on this. [/FONT]
Some have suggested that locals should be toll exempt with a special pass. I suppose this would be unfair to visitors, and not sure if it would be allowed anyhow. I'm not sure how "sun passes" and the like work, but if we get a "SoWal Pass" , how much should it cost residents?
Please do not forget the "campaign cost" associated with this election.
I was told that the "Pro Tax" camp has $100,000 committed to get this passed.
The "Anti tax" group is already 5 months behind in raising the necessary funds to educate the voter on the true cost to a resident. The $200 per household cost of a 1% sales tax increase is based on a "average household" income of only $37k per year. Although that appears to be mathematically acurated, people must look at their " true household" income and make the adjustment. Each voter must likewise determine the number of times they personally cross the bridge each year and multiply that times $3 per crossing headed south.
For me, the tax works the best. I do not want a toll that my great gradchildren will still be paying. There is no one who abhors unnecessary taxation anymore than I do. However, if a firm provision can be made for sunsetting the sales tax, it is the proper way to go. Let all support a bridge everyone uses sometime, not those working in the south and coming from the north and visa versa.
As someone who spoke in favor of the tax for the bridge vs the toll let me weigh in here. I favor a 1% sales tax vs any other tax. I talked to the County Finance guy after the meeting. With a 1% sales tax we would pay off our share of the bridge in less than 9 year with the reduction in associated interest. He also explained after I asked the interest would obviously increase for a longer finance period. So for those opposed to paying the bridge off in a shorter period to save interest payments makes me wonder if they would dothe same with there mortgage if given the option to pay off early thus saving money. As the phrase "kicking the can down the road" comes to mind I wonder how these folks can justify there position. Those folks who support a toll over the tax I can't even comprehend. We have a Govenor who supports tolling new roads in the state and in my opinion would like to toll existing roads to pay for maintenance. The only bridge that I can remember that went from a toll bridge to a no toll bridge was the Navarre Bridge which Santa Rosa County took over maintenance on.
Two or three years ago Rep. Murzan from Pensacola asked a group of us what we thought about a toll for the 331 bridge, I was oppose then and am now. Based on a poll the TDC performed, they said that if traffic was bad without improvement tourist said they would go somewhere else, whether that is true or not it is what is being said. We heard this tax or toll is just for the bridge, people said what about 4 laning to I-10, I feel the road will come if the bridge is built, right away seems to be bought and paid for, the money as I understood it seems to appropriated.
Those folks that have come up with the money for the tax, let me know who you are, I got some cash I would like to contribute. Need signs put up, I got a truck, need flyers handed out let me. Bob Wells is not just my screen name it is my name. Let me know