Lori Moffett letter to the editor


St Johns County would seem to be in an enviable position relative to the rest of the state of Florida. It's one of the wealthiest counties and has one of longest coastlines in the entire state. So why are we essentially non-existent relative to every other comparable county in terms of local funding for beach renourishment? In fact, virtually nothing has been spent on renourishment for its northern beaches, from Ponte Vedra to Vilano.

According to St. Johns County’s 2017 financial plan, our county spends only about $775,000 per year on beach renourishment, and it is basically all directed to the southern half of its coastline. This compares to a range of $9 to $13 million per year for comparable counties. Collier, Monroe, Palm Beach, Lee, etc. have similarly long coastlines and high per capita income levels, yet they spend up to 17 times more than we do on our beaches. This huge disparity is unacceptable. Decades of neglect to our northern beaches has resulted in extreme erosion that is now causing property values to spiral downward and threaten our tax base. Summer Haven and South Ponte Vedra/Vilano are already in a dire state with some property values falling about 50 percent as the beach has disappeared. According to Olsen Associates, Ponte Vedra proper has lost 135 feet of width from its beach since the 1970s, and property values there have started falling by about 10 to 20 percent since the recent hurricanes, according to the St. Johns County Property Appraiser.

The coastline of Florida always provides the lion's share of the tax base for the rest of the state. How will St. Johns County continue to fund vital services such as our prized school system as property values on its coast continue to fall? Why would tourists come here if there isn't a beach for them to enjoy?

Our county commissioners have a solid proposal, but not all of them are on board. They are considering raising the bed tax (paid by tourists) from 4 percent currently to 5 percent, which would raise over $2 million per year for the northern 20 miles of coastline in St. Johns County. The Tourist Development Council voted in favor of this measure. Our proposed bed tax rate would be the same or less than other coastal counties. In fact, Nassau, Flagler and Collier have all raised their bed tax rate within the last year to direct more money toward their beaches. However, our commissioners failed to garner the indication of support needed to affect the increase earlier this year! Commissioners Waldron, Morris and Dean indicated support, while Commissioners Smith and Johns did not.

The commissioners plan to vote on the bed tax increase again in July or August. We urge all of them to vote for the measure and ensure the financial viability of this county for both the near- and long-term. The overwhelming majority of renourishment programs in the state of Florida are locally funded by the bed tax, and the difference in the condition of those beaches versus ours is stark. It makes sense to fund such a critical need for the entire county with monies earmarked for it by Florida statutes — the bed tax. Our commissioners have a choice: tax the tourists now, or tax residents later.

We urge the commissioners to make the right choice.