Thursday, April 26, 2018
Politics

Despite reluctance to discuss it, time for county sales tax has come

What was supposed to be an unveiling turned out to be a pep rally.

A month ago, County Administrator Len Sossamon said he had a time and place in mind to roll out plans for a new half-cent sales tax: this week's Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast.

He would not only try to get business people behind the idea, but also produce a list of projects that could be paid for with the tax's roughly $8 million in annual revenue.

Instead, Sossamon spent his time on stage Wednesday telling the crowd that he always liked to "maximize the positive and minimize the negative," that he was creating "jobs, jobs, jobs" by bringing in or retaining several manufacturers, and, finally, that the county, the city of Brooksville and the county school system are like horses powering a "troika."

In case you don't know what that is, and I'm pretty sure that hardly a soul in the room did, Sossamon explained that it's a Russian "carriage or sled pulled by three horses hitched side by side — not one after another, but side by side."

As obviously false as Sossamon's statement was, trying to pass it off as the truth was a noble attempt on his part to round up the three maverick local entities.

Noble, but futile.

The hard feelings created by the County Commission's recent, arrogant refusal to charge school impact fees is actually the least compelling reason for the School Board to go it alone with its half-cent sales tax, which, like the county's, appears headed for a referendum this year.

The School District is just asking for an extension of an existing tax. It desperately needs the money and voters know the schools need it.

I don't know if there will ever be a safe bet that Hernando residents will agree to tax themselves. But if there is, this is it. Not, however, if it's tied to the county's big ask, which is a much shakier proposition.

Still, it is a worthy one.

The county's needs, after years of revenue starvation, are almost as desperate as the schools'. It could really use intersection improvements, expanded boat ramps, new water lines and any number of other projects.

What's more, most people in the room agreed these upgrades are needed.

Think of Don Meredith — or, better yet, Willie Nelson, whose 1967 version is actually a subtle heartbreaker — and sing to yourself, "Turn out the lights, the party's over."

The tea party, I mean. It's hard to understand why Sossamon was reluctant to bring up the idea of the sales tax, because most of the people in this Republican-dominated crowd seemed not only aware of the proposal, but in favor of it.

Hard to believe that not too long ago, this was a party with one plank: shrink the government. And now prominent Republicans I talked to freely tossed around once-verboten phrases such as "invest in the community."

Of course, if there's a kind of tax that they might like, it's a sales tax. It hits regular folks, who spend just about every penny that comes in, harder than people who can afford to set money aside.

But as unfair as it seems to add an inordinate burden on cashiers and landscapers trying to buy clothes for their kids, we can be reassured that, not too long ago, politicians were pandering to them, doubling the homestead exemption and creating extra breaks for veterans, low-income seniors and others, to the point where, last year, 6,615 homeowners paid no county property tax at all.

And, whatever the injustice of a sales tax, it is outweighed by the need.

Take it from banker Jim Kimbrough and Realtor Buddy Selph. Take it from arch-conservative county commissioners Wayne Dukes and Nick Nicholson:

Really, we need to invest in the community.

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