Without question, of all the founding fathers of the United States, I have learned the most from the writings of Benjamin Franklin and his Farmer’s Almanac. How could a fiscal and social conservative like me not embrace the sobering wisdom of such a gifted writer, inventor and humorist?
During yesterday’s meeting of the St Johns County Board of Commissioners, the nagging debate over the need to raise sales taxes in order to satisfy the county administrator’s gluttonous appetite raged on.
This was the first of two required public hearings to move the proposed referendum, to create a local option sales tax of one-percent, onto the ballot of a special election later this year. The second hearing, and likely vote, will come on June 16th during a special meeting at 6:00 p.m. in the County Administration Building Auditorium, located at 500 San Sebastian View.
There were 25 people who spoke in opposition of spending the estimated $200,000 required to hold a county-wide special election; most went on to express their further opposition to a one-cent sales tax increase. About 10 citizens, by my count, spoke in favor of balloting the tax increase. After all of the public comment was over, Chairman Rachael Bennett allowed each commissioner 3-minutes to speak.
Commissioner Bill McClure pointed out that there is no money allocated in the proposal for the school district. “That means, should the school district require additional capital funds, we are either going to have to raise the sales tax, again, to 8-percent on consumers at that time; or, raise the ad valorem tax on all property owners.
McClure has taken a lot of heat from administration and fellow commissioners who favor raising capital by raising taxes. There has been little or no compromise on the new tax, and apparent political pressure in repeated failed attempts to discredit McClure personally.
Commissioner McClure said his primary reason to move to St Johns County was our leading school system, where both of his sons are enrolled. “Our quality of life is directly affected by our top-ranked school district,” McClure wrote in a memo to Historic City News.
McClure proposed that if the referendum is placed on a ballot and St Johns County voters vote to approve it, half of the proceeds should be given to the school district to assist in financing its own capital improvements.
County Administrator Mike Wanchick admitted during the meeting that he had already made a “back door” offering to School Superintendent Dr Joseph Joyner, offering him $5 million per year in exchange for his support, and Dr Joyner declined. McClure told Historic City News that he was astonished when he learned of this.
“If the School Board doesn’t think a sales tax hike is a good idea, then neither do I,” McClure replied. “If County Commissioners don’t care about the effect this vote has on schools, then shame on them.”
From where me and Mr. Franklin sit, its difficult to imagine the impact of hundreds of millions of additional taxes collected over the next ten-years, or more, in St Johns from consumers who we desperately need to go out and buy things. A penny here and a penny there doesn’t sound like much; but, as made clear by Mike Wanchick, if it amounts to enough for him to give five-million dollars to the school district every year, its a good bit of coin. And, as coined by my esteemed colleague, “A penny saved is a penny got”.