‘The sales tax is dead’

Commissioner Jay Morris at Ponte Vedra Beaches Coalition meeting says pursuit of county sales tax increase is over


St. Johns County Board of County Commissioner Jay Morris told attendees of the Ponte Vedra Beaches Coalition meeting on Monday that efforts to institute a one-cent increase to the county’s sales tax were put to an end at last week’s BCC meeting.

Morris, who represents District 4, has been advocating for the increase to mitigate what he says is a looming financial crisis that could hit the county by 2019. At last week’s BCC meeting, Morris made a motion to place the item on the agenda for the Aug. 1 meeting, which ultimately would have led to a commission vote on adding a referendum to a special ballot in November to allow residents to vote on the issue.

Commissioner Henry Dean seconded Morris’ motion, but Commissioners Jeb Smith, Jimmy Johns and Paul Waldron were against it. The deadline to place a referendum on the ballot is Aug. 1; therefore, any hopes of allowing the public to vote on the sales tax increase this year and collect from the tax in 2018 are finished, said Morris.

“The sales tax is dead,” said Morris. “This year, it’s over, and it’s a shame because I think it would have passed.”

According to the commissioner, such a tax hike would bring in approximately $32-33 million annually for the county. Morris has consistently said this extra source of revenue is necessary for the county because it doesn’t have any other funding sources moving forward.

Morris expressed his concerns again about the state legislature’s efforts to put a measure on the ballot in November 2018 that would increase the homestead exemption to $75,000 – a move that, if passed, would reduce St. Johns County revenues by an estimated $9-10 million. Add in the combination of the county’s consistent growth, a shrinking budget over the past 10 years and Hurricane Matthew restoration costs, and Morris believes the county is headed for financial trouble. If the county doesn’t ultimately decide to raise the sales tax, the commissioner said he foresees it only having one other alternative: raise property taxes.

New water reclamation facility

 Also at the Beaches Coalition meeting, St. Johns County Utility Department representatives said that construction of a new and advanced water reclamation facility will begin in early 2018 at the county’s existing PLAYERS Club site, which is adjacent to the Woodlands Creek neighborhood and the large TPC parking lot.

Director of Utilities Bill Young explained that the new facility will consolidate three of Ponte Vedra’s aged wastewater treatment plants into one state-of-the-art facility made of concrete that will last for 30 to 50 years. He said that the new facility will cover residents living in the southern end of the Ponte Vedra service area. Marsh Landing, he added, will continue to utilize its own wastewater treatment facility.

The three facilities to be phased out include the current treatment plant at the PLAYERS Club site, the Sawgrass waste water treatment plant and the Innlet Beach wastewater treatment plant. Young said the new facility will enhance the quality of reclaimed water delivered to the community and improve the environment.

The project is expected to cost about $30 million. Young said the county is hoping to receive funding for the project via the State Revolving Fund program. He added that the county will also utilize a $2 million grant from the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Cost Share-Funding program to support the project.

The project is expected to be complete in mid-2020.