Mary Kohnke letter to the editor


At the Board of County Commissioners meeting on April 17, the commissioners voted to move forward on examining a user fee (fancy word for tax) for certain county services.

This discussion included possible fees for beach parking, boat ramps, parks, rec fields and libraries.

Now let’s put this all in context with the talk since 2015 about the county’s budget woes and revenue shortfalls. In fact, two years ago, this was all spelled out, and several solutions were proposed. Of all the possible sources of new revenue, the one that would give us the largest increase, while at the same time allow us to share the burden with nonresidents, was to add a 1-cent increase to the current county sales tax.

Did you know that out of 67 counties, St. Johns County has the second-lowest tax rate at 6.5 percent? Of that, we send 5 cents to Tallahassee, leaving the county with a penny and only a half-cent for the schools. The proposed 1-cent sales tax increase would be all ours.

Tourists would pay around 35 percent of the sales tax. It was estimated to collect over $32 million dollars annually. The school board asked us to go forward with them in their request, but two of our county commissioners, Jeb Smith and Jimmy Johns, were adamant against any tax increase (both knowing full well that it would be the citizens who would make the choice at the ballot box, not them).

Then last year, we found out that Tallahassee was going to put an amendment on the 2018 ballot offering an increase in the homestead exemption (from 50,000 to 75,000). That will cost the county an additional 10 million in lost revenue if people vote for it, and you know they will.

So here we are today, already having lost well about $40 million in additional sales tax revenue.

Our problems still exist, only worse. We continue to have a huge hole in our unfunded deferred maintenance for roads and bridge repairs. You name it, no money, no repairs.

Last year, a group of us even contacted the City of St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach Commissioners, explained the situation to them, asked if they would go to the county commissioners and help us, as they too would share in the additional revenue. They didn’t bother and yet in the newspaper they are screaming about no money and wanting more of the bed tax revenue.

My friends: You do know it is our property taxes that are paying for the beaches, parks and libraries. Now they want you to pay more to use what you already pay for. 

From our experience last year, it was again Jeb Smith, Jimmy Johns and now Paul Waldron who would not even consider putting the sales tax on the ballot for you to vote on.

If they continue down this path, it will be well over $100 million in revenue that we will have lost over the next three years. I’m afraid their only option will be to raise our property taxes. These shortsighted elected officials are costing us a lot of money (services) and have not even given us an opportunity to vote, up or down. They should be ashamed! You, my fellow citizens, should be ashamed as well if you say and do nothing.