My keyboard has been silent for a while but today I must speak out regarding the planned five cent per gallon fuel tax for Gulf County. I have listened to the arguments in favor of the tax but cannot understand how this gas tax increase is in the best interest of the low income and fixed income residents of the county.
The projected revenue stream from this gas tax is about $120,000. I do not believe this amount will be collected as residents who have the ability to purchase their gas outside Gulf County will do so. Gasoline in Gulf County is already higher than Bay County by .17 to .25 per gallon. Proponents of the tax say it is “only a nickel per gallon”. I say it’s a nickel on top of $3.45 that the low and fixed income residents of Gulf County should not be asked to pay.
According to information obtained from the U. S. Census Bureau the latest available numbers lists the per capita income for Gulf County at $17,975. The median household income for Gulf County is $39,535 – meaning half the households in Gulf County have an income of less than $39,535 and the other half of Gulf County households have an income more than $39, 535. Also, according to the census information, 18.8 percent of Gulf County residents live below the poverty level. Veterans comprise approximately 10% of our population and residents over 65 are 17.4 percent. Times are difficult for many in Gulf County.
Prices for food, clothing, utilities, homeowners insurance, medical costs and other essential goods and services continue to increase. So let’s take another “nickel per gallon” bite out of the household budget because we think the tourists should help pay for coming here.
The tourists already contribute a great deal to our economy. The Tourist Development Council’s budget last year was just over one million dollars. The TDC gets four pennies per dollar (soon to be 5 pennies per dollar) in bed taxes collected. In order to generate one million dollars for the TDC – twenty six million dollars must be spent for lodging in Gulf County. This is just for lodging. By the way, the total tax for lodging in Gulf County is 11 percent - soon to be 12 percent. This does not include money spent for food at local stores. This does not include money spent for meals enjoyed in local restaurants. This does not include money spent for fishing trips. This does not include purchases made at local merchants in Port St. Joe and throughout Gulf County. Tourists spend a lot of money in Gulf County. This keeps businesses in business. This keeps people employed in Gulf County.
TDC funds are used to rake the beaches as needed, remove trash from the beaches (100,000 pounds of trash was removed this season), maintain pet stations, and provide information kiosks throughout the county. TDC funds promote Gulf County in order to get tourists here. We are a tourist community and we cannot survive without our tourists. The locals are the bread and butter – the tourists are the gravy. I see the tourists as a good thing. I’m concerned that some in our county see them as nothing more than a cash cow ready to be milked. Vacationers plan all year for a trip to our little piece of paradise and many are on a budget – keep adding taxes – there will be a tipping point and the cash cow will run dry.
Currently the 2014-2015 budget includes the gas tax increase plus a millage increase in ad valorem tax. I hope everyone will take the time to review their TRIM notice. How much will your tax bill increase with the new millage rate? I believe the gas tax increase can be avoided with a reduction in the proposed 2014-2015 budget. There are a number of areas where line items can be cut. The second reading of the gas tax ordinance will be at 9:00 a.m. September 9, 2014 at the regular BOCC meeting. The BOCC will also vote on this ordinance at that meeting. I realize for many in the workplace it is extremely inconvenient to attend meetings during business hours – but I want to encourage everyone who can possibly make it to be there.
The following day (Sept. 10 at 5 p.m.) there is a budget meeting in the commission board room. I would also like to encourage citizens to attend this meeting as well. We the people, need to let our voices be heard. I sincerely believe we can make a difference.
Gulf County Resident
and Business Owner