Local News

Parkway projects depend on 1-penny tax

— When will Sebring Parkway Phase 2 be completed?

In March, the Highlands County commissioners reallocated $3.6 million from Phase 2 to build the new sheriff’s office, County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete reminded. Therefore, the project was put off until 2017-18.

But, if Highlands County voters reauthorize the one-cent sales tax, Gavarrete got in a plug, “then maybe we can replenish the money.”

With just five days left until the Aug. 26 primary, county officials are talking with taxpayers.

“Every chance I get,” said commission chairman Greg Harris, “and a lot of people are coming to me with questions.

“Why doesn’t everybody get it? Twenty, 30, 40 percent of it comes from outside our county,” Harris said. The tax is collected on automobiles, clothing, carpet, ready-to-eat food and other items at cash registers across the county.

Harris feels most residents are for the tax. “No one has told me they’re against it. Not one, except the same folks who are always against everything.”

County Administrator June Fisher, Assistant County Administrator Randy Vosburg, and Administrative Projects Manager Chris Benson have been speaking to hundreds of county residents: the county tea party, the Group for Better Government, the three chambers of commerce, the political parties, the real estate association, the municipalities, and the civic groups.

“They have invited or requested to attend,” said county spokeswoman Gloria Rybinski. “We haven’t taken a position. We are not advocating, we’re just passing along the information, educating the public about the infrastructure surtax, what has been done with the tax and what will be done if the tax gets continued.”

The current tax expires in 2019, so the ballot will ask voters if they wish to continue paying a one-cent tax for another 15 years.

If the tax doesn’t pass on Tuesday, how will Parkway Phase II be finished?

“We will have to find other funding for it,” Harris said. “Maybe we’ll be able to get other grants. I don’t know where it will come from. I just know we can’t built it without money.”

Three parkway projects are hanging in the balance when voters decide Tuesday whether to keep paying a one-penny sales tax.

Phase 1 started Sebring Parkway at Walmart and took traffic to downtown Sebring.

Phase 2, when it is completed, continues past Sebring High School and will end Highlands Regional Medical Center.

Phase 3, which starts at the 90-degree turn between Walmart and downtown Sebring, will end at South Florida State College. “I am hopeful that will be seeing construction on Phase 3 some time next year between March and May,” Gavarrete said.

Phase 4 will join the 90-degree turn with State Road 17, and which will allow more direct access from Lorida.

Phase 5 exists in concept only. It will link College Drive across U.S. 27 and continue east of Avon Park Executive Airport.

“The goal is to keep traffic on U.S. 27 from failing,” Gavarrete said. “Local traffic can use the local roads, and the through traffic can use 27.”