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Could the St. Johns County 1-cent sales tax increase line the pockets of developers?

Critics of the increase say 'yes.' A county commissioner says it's a "false narrative" from no-growth groups

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla — During this upcoming election, people in St. Johns County will vote on a one cent sales tax increase.

The county says the money is needed for things such as road improvements, new fire stations, new libraries and new parks. However, the issue has become contentious.

Some people don’t want the tax increase because they say it will help developers economically.

Blake Paterson lives in South Ponte Vedra Beach. He is voting 'NO' on the one-cent sales tax increase in St. Johns County. It’s not because he just doesn’t want to pay more taxes. He believes the county needs to tighten its belt.

"They (county commissioners) need to say, 'How much can we cut from our operating budget. How can we skin government to the bone?' And maybe then, talk about a tax increase."

For an example, he points to the list of projects the county says the extra sales tax money would pay for. One of the items is a new $55 million sheriff’s command center.

"I understand the police may need a new office, but they don’t need a palace," Paterson said. 

If voters approve to increase the sales tax from 6.5 cents to 7.5 cents on the dollar, it’s expected $500 million would be generated in ten years. The county says the money would pay for new roads, more fire stations, libraries, and parks in the county where neighborhoods are springing up.

Paterson and other residents of St. Johns County believe the sales tax increase would actually line the pockets of developers.

"It’s not a direct line, but it makes life easier economically for the developers for sure," Paterson told First Coast News. "It takes the heat off of (developers) having to scramble to build infrastructure to enhance the value of their properties."

However, St. Johns County Commission Chairman Henry Dean says the idea that this penny tax increase will help developers going forward is wrong. 

"I’m here to tell you today, it’s a false narrative that's being circulated by certain groups that are no-growth groups," Dean told First Coast News. 

He said the need for this money comes from development approval made by previous county commissioners before 2018.

"It's because there's a backlog," Dean said, "It’s not what’s been created since 2018."

He said in 2018, he and his fellow county commissioners chose to increase the impact fees, so developers would have to pay the maximum impact fee levels allowed by the state. 

Dean said this sales tax increase needed to help the county catch up with growth will not have to happen again because of those highest-level impact fee regulations in place. 

"And that’s the key point the public is missing," Dean said. 

However, Paterson is not convinced.

He said the commission should "try to fix it. You’re not going to fix it by asking common citizens to pay more."

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