Local News

Tax on, tax off?

During this primary election Aug. 26, Highlands County registered voters will be asked to approve a ballot referendum on extending a 1-cent sales tax the county has been assessing since 1989.

Highlands Today has compiled a Q&A on the referendum, the one-penny sales tax, what it pays for and who pays it.

Q: What is the 1-cent sales tax and how long has it being in existence in Highlands County?

A: The one-penny sales tax, as it is most commonly known, is a local government infrastructure sales tax, voters first approved in August 1989 for 15 years. In 1999, they approved a 15-year extension of the tax to 2019. The county wants to extend the tax another 15 years from 2019. Revenues allow Highlands County “to build needed infrastructure without laying the entire burden of the cost solely on the property owners,” the county says.

Q: Who pays the tax?

A: Everybody who buys taxable goods in Highlands County. Necessities like food, medicine, long term rentals, dental and medical care will be exempt as they are with the current sales tax.

Q: What can the tax revenue be used to pay for?

A: The revenue can only be used for infrastructure as determined by the state legislature. The Board of County Commissioners solicits public input and holds workshops to determine which projects will receive allocations, the county says.

The funds are used for capital improvement projects throughout Highlands County, including the City of Avon Park, Sebring and Town of Lake Placid in the following areas: transportation, parks and recreation, lake and waterway improvements, government facilities, municipal improvement projects, vehicles and equipment.

Q: I live within city limits, will I benefit?

A: Yes, the county says, since the projects serve the whole county. Some of the projects the tax money pays for is within city and town limits, such as those dealing with parks and recreation, said Highlands County spokeswoman Gloria Rybinski. Sometimes, municipalities request that certain city and town projects be done with this money, she added.

Q: How much of this one-penny sales tax revenue has the county appropriated so far?

A: Since its inception in 1989 through Sept. 30, 2013, Highlands County has appropriated $178.6 million for infrastructure projects, the county says. The county commission has committed to funding another $57.3 million in projects through 2019.

Q: Is the county sales tax referendum different from the one the Highlands County School Board is sponsoring for the November ballot?

A: Yes. The school is board is pursuing its own half-cent sales tax referendum that is on the November ballot.

Q: What are some of the projects the one-penny sales tax has paid for?

A: There are several infrastructure projects, the county says, which have been funded by the one-penny sales tax money. Some of these are: the Veterans Services building, the renovation of the Avon Park Public Library, the county annex building, EMS ambulance and equipment, Highlands County Jail renovations, sheriff’s patrol cars, etc.

Q: What are some future and in-progress projects slated to be paid through one-penny money ?

A: $9,151,260 for the Law Enforcement facility is one. Since the current approved tax does not end until 2019 the county has committed the future revenue of that levy for upcoming planned expenditures, said Chris Benson, community programs/administrative project manager. Others are for EMS stations, among other projects.


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