Escambia County won’t raise sales tax this year to fund fire departments, but the county commission is still figuring out how to raise revenue.
Last month, Commissioner Jeff Bergosh floated the idea of asking voters to raise the sales tax rate by half a penny or three-quarters of a penny. But on Thursday he said that couldn’t happen this year because it wouldn’t be possible to meet a 180-day notice requirement to put the proposal on the ballot.
“That pretty much kills sales tax for this year,” Bergosh said. “The next time we could do that would be the 2024 general election.”
Residential property owners in Escambia County pay a $125 MSBU. In May, the county’s budget office outlined four options to pay for rising utility costs in the form of a variation of the current property tax or a new fire tax based on property value (MTSU) that would make up the difference needed to create at least $6 million. in additional revenue to provide needed funding and reduce general fund grants.
Bergosh said Thursday he still believes that ultimately sales tax is the best path and that he would not support any property tax increases.
“Everyone uses this service, but it’s the property owners who pay taxes who have to pay it,” he said. “People who visit here, wreck their car on the highway, come to the beach and need help – they don’t pay. That’s why I’m really in favor of the sales tax model.
County Attorney Alison Rogers said it was too late to implement it at MTSU as well.
“You really are fundamentally out of time. This must be done and completed by July 1. It has notice requirements,” Rogers told the commissioners. But she said the $125 MSBU increase could be done by resolution, if the committee votes at its next regular meeting on June 16.
“I think it’s safer to look at the MSBU, MSTU. This would be done for a short period of time with the intention of reviewing (the sales tax increase),” Commissioner Steven Barry said, rather than relying on the general fund. “Going back to relying more on the general fund, even for a few years with the idea of changing that in the future – so sometimes things change on the board and then you end up in a situation where maybe the current can -being on the board at that time is not receptive to this idea.
The commissioners decided to explore their options in a workshop meeting on June 9 to decide on a direction before their June 16 meeting.