Historic City News was informed that on Wednesday, July 30th, the Board of Directors of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce voted unanimously to oppose the county charter as proposed on the August 26 primary ballot.
This decision was based on three arguments: that the charter does not address the county commission’s ability to levy a utility tax; that the charter can potentially impose an uncertain financial burden on tax payers through its implementation; and that the charter and its amendments uses misleading language and structure on the ballot.
Tom Costeira, Chairman of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce, states, “As written, this charter has the potential to create more problems than it does to create solutions. Simply put, the intent of the charter remains unclear.”
“We are also concerned that no one has addressed how much this change of government will cost the taxpayers,” says Costeira, pointing out that even though the proposed charter requires an economic impact analysis accompany any future ballot amendments, there’s been no mention of the taxpayer’s cost in relation to the adoption of the charter. “Where is the economic impact analysis on the charter itself and the proposed amendments on the August 26 ballot?”
The number one concern for the business community and citizens of St. Johns County should be the absence of language prohibiting the new charter government from exercising the “municipal utility service tax”. A comparison guide created by the Florida Association of Counties demonstrates that under charter government a “municipal utility tax” can be levied in the unincorporated area of the county-a taxing authority the current commissioners do not have under non-charter government.
Of the 19 chartered counties in Florida , 12 have exercised this tax. The “municipal utility service tax” can be applied to electricity, water, natural gas, manufactured gas, liquefied petroleum gas, and fuel oil/kerosene. Business is the largest consumer of these utilities and there is a potential concern that the tax burden could be further shifted to the existing businesses of St. Johns County
In addition, the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce perceives the structure and language of the August 26 ballot to be confusing and misleading. Moreover, the charter should be approved or denied on its own merit, followed by a separate vote for the three proposed amendments, pending adoption of the charter. If the intent was to change the nature of the County Commission , in relation to term limits, non-partisan elections or to impose coastal height restrictions, then those issues should have been included in the original document.
The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce is not opposed to a charter government that clearly addresses public outcry, solves a problem that cannot be overcome by the current form of government, or removes a barrier to improving the quality of life for the citizens and businesses of St. Johns County . The charter as written does not specifically address this criteria and creates additional risk for the existing business community.