If approved by a simple majority of voters, the tax would take effect Jan. 1, 2019, remain in place through Dec. 31, 2023 and generate an estimated $17 million annually.

CRESTVIEW — Most Okaloosa County commissioners voted Tuesday to approve placing the county’s proposed half-cent sales tax question on the Nov. 6, 2018, general election ballot rather than conducting an expensive special election next spring.

County officials in recent months had considered asking voters in an April 10 mail-in ballot special election to approve the possible five-year tax. But the county’s estimated $110,000 to $130,000 cost of conducting such an election didn’t sit well with some commissioners Tuesday.

"I definitely want to see it on the November ballot," said Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Ketchel, who added she could not justify spending the money to put the issue on a special ballot.

County Attorney Greg Stewart said there is no additional cost to putting the referendum on the general election ballot since all voting precincts would already be open.

Besides saving taxpayers money, having the question on the general election ballot means it should go before a larger number of voters compared to the turnout for a special election, Commissioner Trey Goodwin said.

He and other commissioners said putting the referendum before voters in November also will give local government and Chamber of Commerce officials more time to talk to voters about how the possible tax revenue would be spent.

If approved by a simple majority of voters, the tax would take effect Jan. 1, 2019, remain in place through Dec. 31, 2023 and generate an estimated $17 million annually.

Much of the money would help pay for infrastructure projects in the unincorporated area and local municipalities. County officials plan to enter into inter-local agreements with the municipalities on how the revenue would be distributed. For example, the money could be distributed based on the populations of the county and its cities and towns.

Ketchel said an estimated 27 percent of the annual tax revenue would be generated by tourists.

After further discussion Tuesday, Goodwin cast the lone "no" vote. He said he wanted to study the possible tax and the use of its revenue some more before cementing an election date.

The commission also briefly talked about whether to propose a 10-year sales tax rather than a five-year levy.

But, while county officials can justify a 10-year backlog of infrastructure projects, "We’ve been publicizing a five-year (sales tax) timeline to citizens," Commissioner Nathan Boyles said.

After noting that Crestview City Council President J. B. Whitten was attending Tuesday's meeting, Commission Vice-Chairman Graham Fountain invited the councilman to share his thoughts on the span of the proposed tax.

"It would be more palatable to the people to keep it at five years," Whitten said.

Assuming voters approve the proposed five-year sales tax next year, any extension would require another referendum, Stewart said.

Before most commissioners agreed to put the tax question on the general election ballot, they heard from a man from Holt who said there has never been a "temporary" tax in Okaloosa County. Crestview resident Paul Farnsworth said the commission should have discussed the sales tax issues at a 6 p.m. meeting, rather than in the morning, so more people could participate in the discussion.

Also on Tuesday, most commissioners agreed to establish a five-member infrastructure surtax advisory committee sometime next year. Assuming voters approve the sales tax, the committee would advise and make recommendations to the commission on proposed sales tax-funded projects and expenditures.

The commission also agreed to repeal a resolution it had adopted in October in support of holding a county school board half-cent sales tax referendum next May.

The school board earlier had proposed asking voters in a mailed election ballot to approve its own half-cent sales tax, which would have generated money to pay for infrastructure projects at various schools, as well as for a possible high school in Destin.

But last month, the board agreed to cancel its special election in light of the various ongoing investigations facing the board and school district.

School board and district officials "will contact you when we have developed a new plan to move forward with the (board’s) sales surtax referendum," School Board Chairman Lamar White wrote in a Nov. 16 letter to Ketchel.

In other business Tuesday, Fountain was chosen to serve as the commission’s chairman and Commissioner Kelly Windes was chosen to serve as its vice-chairman for calendar year 2018.