Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Residents Talk about City Plan Official Answers Group's Questions

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Residents Talk about City Plan Official Answers Group's Questions

Article excerpt

If voters approve Mayor John Delaney's Better Jacksonville Plan in a Sept. 5 referendum calling for a half-cent increase in the local sales tax, not a penny can be spent for operations or salaries, said Jacksonville General Counsel Richard A. Mullaney.

"The money can be used only for the capital projects included in the plan," Mullaney told members of the Greater Arlington Civic Council at a meeting Thursday night in the Regency Square branch library.

Mullaney stood in for his boss, Delaney, to answer questions about the Better Jacksonville Plan's financial aspects that had been raised recently by members of the civic council, an umbrella organization of more than 30 homeowners' and community groups.

The administration estimates that the half-cent sales tax increase needed to finance the $2.2 billion plan would last from 17 to 22 years, Mullaney said.

"The tax must end early if the revenue it produces allows the bonds to be paid down earlier," the city's top lawyer said. "Under Florida law, the tax must end at that time. It cannot be extended by the mayor or the City Council. It can only be extended by the people."

Other sales tax increases originally passed for limited time periods have been extended by elected officials, but Mullaney said the state law that would apply to the Better Jacksonville Plan prohibits that.

"The money from the tax cannot be spent on projects not included in the plan," he said.

To assure that, the plan calls for an annual independent financial audit as well as a citizen oversight committee.

The tax would not be levied on items exempt from sales tax in Florida, such as groceries and medicine, and large-ticket items such as automobiles would be taxed only on the first $5,000 of value.

Mullaney said research shows that 20 percent of the sales tax revenue would be paid by non-residents visiting Jacksonville. …

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