Now what? County prepares to tackle post-sales tax traffic issue

Opponents of the 1 percent sales tax increase proposal in Osceola County rejoiced over its defeat May 21.

About two-thirds of voters chose ‘no’ on the special election ballot item, citing a lack of government transparency and fiscal accountability.

But revenue from the sales surtax was meant to address a major issue in Osceola County – transportation improvements and traffic. Those problems haven’t gone away just because the measure died.

On Monday, Osceola County commissioners are set to tackle the major question that is still looming nearly two weeks after Election Day: Now what?

“Even though they spoke strongly against the surtax, no one is happy with our current transportation situation,” Osceola County Commission Chairwoman Cheryl Grieb said in a statement last week. “As we have stated throughout this robust community debate, our options are limited…The County Commission will have to consider our next steps.”

In recent months, Grieb has said the county has three possible options to fix mounting traffic woes – increase sales tax, increase property tax or do nothing.

At a May 6 County Commission meeting, County Manager Don Fisher discussed what raising property taxes could look like in the future.

Currently, Osceola County has a 6.7 mill property tax rate. If at least three commissioners approve it, the rate could increase to 9.317 mills.

“I’m waiting to see what happens after the 21st because that will effect our budget one way or another,” Grieb said at the May 6 meeting. “Then we’ll have to sit down as a board and look at the entire budget and determine how that’s going to be properly funded.”

Last month, Gov. Ron DiSantis signed a bill barring local government from placing a sales tax increase proposal on a primary or special election ballot. That goes into effect Jan. 1.

Less than a week before Osceola County residents voted down the 1 percent increase, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced that he will lead a drive to persuade voters in November 2020 to approve a penny sales tax to pay for the Lynx bus service, SunRail and other transportation upgrades, including an unspecified amount of countywide road improvements.