Leon County voters will decide Nov. 7 whether the county implements a half-cent sales tax increase that will be used to aid residents who are medically uninsured.
The referendum to raise the sales tax rate to eight percent could mean better healthcare for many Florida A&M students and other residents, but some believe it comes with its drawbacks.
“We are looking at figures between 75-80 percent of the overall increase that will go toward aiding the uninsured,” said Bill Proctor, District 1 County Commissioner.
Proctor said there are several qualifications for citizens to receive the proposed healthcare support under the Leon County Community Health Care Plan.
“Those eligible must be a resident of Leon County and must meet 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines,” Proctor said. “They are also not allowed to receive insurance from any other insurer outside of the plan.”
Proctor has firmly stood in favor of the referendum and believes the increase will benefit the overall welfare of Tallahassee’s residents with no health insurance.
Earlier this year, Leon County hired Mercer Consulting to conduct a review of the county’s current community healthcare plan.
The Mercer report showed more than 20,000 Leon County residents were uninsured. As a result, many of those citizens resort to emergency room visits to receive medical treatment. The inability of the uninsured to pay often results in higher premiums for insured citizens. This forces many insured residents to cancel their healthcare plans and join the plight of the uninsured.
Bryan Desloge, chairman for the Chamber of Commerce and candidate for District 4 County Commission, said he sees the need to help the uninsured, but does not believe increasing the tax is the right solution.
“The governance of the half-cent increase is not clear,” Desloge said. He sees the idea of increasing the sales tax to aid healthcare as a huge fiscal risk. “There is no ripcord capability attached to this plan in order to control it if it backfires. It could potentially be a 15 year tax law with no clear way out.”
Florida’s sales tax rates lie on a scale that is set at a base rate of six percent.
This scale, as outlined by the Department of Revenue, increases by percentage according to the amount of discretionary sales surtax applied.
Buyers can ordinarily calculate the amount of tax they will be charged by adding 7.5 cents to every dollar of taxable items sold.
For example, under Leon County’s current 7.5 sales tax percent scale, an $8 taxable sale is taxed 60 cents.
However, if the half-cent increase of eight percent is made the same $8.00 purchase will be taxed 64 cents.
According to the Department of Revenue, Leon County is ranked third in Florida for counties with the highest sales tax. Escambia and Jackson County lead the way. If the eight percent sales tax is implemented, Leon County will rank as the county with the highest sales tax in the state.
“The county will be hiring a private firm who will help educate the public prior to the election,” Proctor said.
The county commission met Aug. 3 and passed a motion to proceed with an education campaign that will inform the public on both sides of the issue.
The commission is allotted up to $50,000 to use to ensure residents have all the facts needed to cast a well-informed vote at the polls in November.
Proctor said that residents should expect to receive literature in the mail as well as news updates and television reports to help them with their decision.