On Nov. 6, voters will decide whether to approve Okaloosa County’s 10-year, local option half-cent sales tax referendum. If approved by a simple majority of voters, the tax would take effect Jan. 1 and is expected to generate an estimated $19 million annually. Destin will receive 5.23 percent of all revenues the sales tax brings in, projected to be just under $1 million a year.
It's great knowing that the city of Destin is fiscally in such great shape that the city's leadership have next to no interest in receiving an extra $1 million a year.
In the months leading up to the vote, the county's leadership have discussed the need of the sales tax to help pay for infrastructure projects such as road and stormwater work in the unincorporated area. They have formed a five-person committee that will make recommendations on specific projects the funds will be used for. Most importantly, County Commissioners and managers have gone out to the public, spoken to area service organizations and political organizations to explain the need for this income and how it would be spent.
In June, the Destin City Council voted to support the county's sales tax referendum. Since then, nothing has been done.
According to Doug Rainer, the city's public information officer, none of the council members or city staff have spoken to any groups or service organizations about why the tax is needed in Destin.
At The Log, we've been trying to find out how the city intends to use its share of the countywide sales tax since June, if not before. Back then, it wasn't surprising the city didn't have a formalized plan for how the local money would be spent. The vote on the sales tax was still almost half a year away. There was time. However, they don't have that excuse any longer. Election day is just over six weeks away and Destin residents are being asked to shoulder the burden of a tax increase without being told what any of the benefits they would see are.
The Log asked repeatedly last Friday and again on Monday for an interview with interim city manager Lance Johnson to discuss the issues related to the sales tax. Instead of an interview with Johnson, we were provided this statement from Rainer:
"Currently, the council has not developed a list of projects/items the newly-generated tax would fund. We expect the council to have these discussions in the near future."
Destin stands to gain roughly $10 million over the next decade if this sales tax is approved. While we understand the need for this tax revenue in unincorprated Okaloosa County and are confident in the county's plan to spend the money if approved, we can't endorse Destin residents voting in favor of a sales tax when our city leaders can't tell us how that money will be spent.