Reporter

Osceola County residents will soon decide if they want to raise the local sales tax by one percent from 7.5 to 8.5 in order to pay for new roads and transportation items.

The increase could generate $60 million a year, county officials say.

Resident can vote on the referendum May 21 during a special election.

But holding any election costs money to pay for polling locations, election workers, ballots, postage and printing for mail notices to inform voters about the election, notices in newspapers, vote by mail printing and vote by mail postage.

The May 21 special referendum could cost the county at least $200,000, said Kari Ewalt with the Osceola County Supervisor of Elections Office. But that figure was just an estimation, Ewalt noted.

“We have never conducted a countywide special election before,” she said.

The rough estimate is partly based on a special election held last year that only affected a fifth of the county, Ewalt said.

That only cost $56,000 to operate.

The new sales tax was introduced as a way to generate money for roads – money the county desperately needs for key projects, said County Commission Chair Cheryl Grieb.

That’s why she didn’t want the board to wait until 2020 to introduce the proposal. That ballot will be full of important issues next year, Grieb said, while the cost of construction will only rise.

“We’re already up to $10 million a lane mile for construction costs,” she said. “And that number has not been decreasing. The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost.”

But with traffic arguably having been a long-standing issue in the area for years, Commissioner Peggy Choudhry at a Feb. 18 board meeting, asked why would the county hold a separate special election instead of placing it on last year’s ballot.  

 “I wish if we were going to do this referendum, we would have put it on the ballot last November,” Choudhry said. “Or, I would prefer it would be put on the ballot in 2020.”

But Grieb said last year the measure may not have stood out to voters.

“There were already so many referendums on the ballot (in 2018), all the constitutional issues, I would personally be concerned it would get lost among all those,” Grieb said.

Plus, Grieb and Viviana Janer were up for re-election in November; both won, solidifying a stability of the commission.  

“You never know who the next commission is going to be, potentially, and for 2018, I was concentrating on what I was doing,” Grieb said. “After the election, we knew who all was going to be in office at that time. It was time to get serious about how do we address this problem.”

The last day to register to vote in the special election is April 21. Residents who are already signed up for vote by mail should receive ballots around that time as well.

The one-penny sales tax proposal will be  the only item on the May 21 referendum.