“I for one think that this half-penny sales tax is desperately needed,” Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Ketchel said. “Every visitor that comes here will help us pay for this half-penny sales tax.”
SHALIMAR — On Tuesday, the Okaloosa County Commission could set the date of a public hearing at which it would decide whether to approve an ordinance that establishes the referendum and ballot language for the county's proposed local option half-cent sales tax.
Tuesday’s commission meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. and will take place at Crestview City Hall. The proposed public hearing might take place during the commission’s Dec. 5 session in Crestview, according to county staff.
In the county’s mail-in ballot special election that is tentatively set for April 10, countywide voters would be asked whether to approve a 5-year, half-cent sales tax.
If approved by a simple majority of voters, the tax would take effect Jan. 1, 2019 and generate an estimated $17 million annually. Much of the money would help pay for capital improvement projects in the unincorporated area and local municipalities.
The distribution of tax revenue to the county and its municipalities would be based on population. Of the estimated $17 million, about $11.2 million could go to the county.
For an April 10 election, ballots would be sent out Feb. 23 to military members both in and outside of the country. A mass mail-out of ballots for the rest of the voters would take place March 21.
County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux has said that his office would have to have all submitted ballots by 7 p.m. April 10.
During the commission’s workshop this past Tuesday, County Administrator John Hofstad said staff is compiling a list of projects that might be paid for with revenue from the potential sales tax. Examples of projects include the expansion of the county jail, as well as various road and stormwater projects, he said.
In addition, Hofstad said the county could annually spend about $1.7 million worth of tax revenue to help pay off roughly $60 million in general obligation debt. The debt was incurred by the purchase of the Bracken Building in Crestview and construction of the County Administration Building in Shalimar, the south county courthouse annex in Fort Walton Beach and the new county courthouse that is being built in Crestview.
“I for one think that this half-penny sales tax is desperately needed,” Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Ketchel said at the workshop. “Every visitor that comes here will help us pay for this half-penny sales tax.”
The commission also discussed a possible resolution that calls for decreasing the millage rate if voters approve the sales tax, and for forming a citizen oversight committee that would help review potential projects funded by sales tax revenue.
A majority of the commission recently approved increasing the residential property tax rate by almost 11.7 percent for fiscal 2018, which began Oct. 1.
The possible citizen oversight committee would consist of five members. Each commissioner would appoint one member who is a resident of his or her commission district.
Committee members would bring an “independent set of eyes” to review the worth of proposed projects funded by sales tax revenue, County Attorney Greg Stewart said.
The advisory board would report back to the commission and “make sure the citizens are getting the absolute best projects that provide the most benefit to all citizens of the county,” Stewart said.
Commissioner Kelly Windes, who helped Stewart draft the resolution, called the advisory board an “equity committee.”
“Let’s make sure all districts and all areas of the county are equally represented in this funding so nobody gets short-changed,” Windes said.