ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Monday marks the last chance for Orange County residents to weigh in on Mayor Jerry Demings’ proposed penny sales tax increase before commissioners decide whether to add it to November’s ballot.
What You Need To Know
- Orange County residents have until Monday at 11:59 p.m. to fill out an online survey about their experiences with public transportation, and whether they support a proposed sales tax increase
- If it were to pass, the measure would raise Orange County’s sales tax to 7.5%, providing nearly $600 million per year for transportation projects, including the expansion of public transit lines and stops
- As it’s currently outlined, Mayor Jerry Demings’ proposal would have tourists and visitors funding 51% of the initiative’s anticipated $600 million budget for transportation infrastructure
County residents have until Monday at 11:59 p.m. to fill out an online survey about their experiences with public transportation and whether they support a proposed sales tax increase.
The survey aims to gather feedback on how citizens travel around the area and what they want to see improve. At an economic summit event last week, the mayor spoke to his plan, saying he expects a "yes" vote from commissioners will come Tuesday.
“We have worked diligently to answer the questions of many of our commissioners since our last Board of County Commission meeting," Demings said. "I believe that most have warmed up to the idea of allowing the citizens to make the decision for themselves and not us make the decision on their behalf."
If it were to pass a vote by residents, the measure would raise Orange County’s sales tax to 7.5%, providing nearly $600 million per year for transportation projects, including the expansion of public transit lines and stops. The tax would apply to the first $5,000 in sales, but essential food items, prescription drugs and utilities would be exempt, according to the county’s website.
The commissioners’ pending decision follows a series of informational open houses commissioners held in recent weeks for residents to learn more about how the penny tax proposal might impact them. For Naqiy Mcmullen, expanding Orlando’s public transit systems only makes sense — especially if it’s done hand-in-hand with upzoning, to allow for more accessible housing options near bus and light rail lines.
“We need to provide frequent bus service, but we also need to combine that with the right zoning to build apartments next to the buses, so they get enough ridership to sustain high service,” Mcmullen told Spectrum News 13 in February.
Mcmullen leads Central Floridians For Public Transit, and like many of the group’s members, he relies heavily on public transportation, often spending large chunks of time traveling from point A to point B. More bus and light rail stops would mean less travel time for passengers — but at what cost?
Local real estate developer Peter Duke said he doesn’t think residents should take on the burden of a one-penny tax increase. He said he’d like the county to consider other options to fund transportation improvements, like a rental car tax or hotel surcharge that tourists would pay.
“There might be some other taxes that are perhaps more incumbent on the tourists that visit the area. And maybe we could get by with shouldering just an increased half-percent sales tax increase,” Duke suggested.
As it’s currently outlined, Demings’ proposal would have tourists and visitors funding 51% of the initiative’s anticipated $600 million budget for transportation infrastructure. The funding would address a range of challenges facing Orlando transit: exponential population growth, pedestrian/bicycle safety, air quality and long wait times, just to name a few.
One way or another, Mcmullen said, these are all challenges Orlando must solve in order to be a standout city where people want to live.
“If we want to be economically competitive with other cities across the country and the nation, we need to invest in transit for everyone,” Mcmullen said.
Reporter Ashleigh Mills contriubted to this story.