SWFL voters back sales tax increases for schools, infrastructure projects

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A pair of sales tax referendums in Lee and Collier Counties earned voter approval Tuesday.

In a rare move, Southwest Florida voters agreed to tax themselves at the polls, with Collier County voters voting in favor on a one-cent sales tax increase for infrastructure projects, and Lee County voters approving a half-cent sales tax to fund the school district.

But they were close. 51.5 percent of Lee County voters went “yes” for the tax, passing it by about 8,100 votes. In Collier it was even closer, with a 50.8 percent “yes” vote and a difference of just under 2,500 voters for the one-cent increase.

“We do not take the responsibility you have placed on us lightly,” Lee Schools Superintendent Greg Adkins said in a video released Tuesday night. “We will not waste this opportunity.”

The Lee tax is expected to raise about $59 million per year, which the district says will be used for renovations and infrastructure projects around the district, including the building of five new schools and the rebuilding and replacement of two others, and upgrades to existing facilities. By using the sales tax, the district says it prevents asking for increases in property taxes or borrowing to come up with the funds.

On January 1, the new sales tax rate in Lee County will be 6.5 percent, and the provision is set to automatically expire at the end of 2028.

In Collier, the funds raised from the new sales tax will fund a variety of projects the county says have been held off due to the drop in property tax collections that happened starting with the Great Recession in 2008. The county plans to fund road improvements, such as the extension of Vanderbilt Beach Road, and improvements on Pine Ridge, Airport-Pulling, and Livingston Road, along with new and replacing existing bridges.

The county also says that funds will go towards hurricane-proofing existing buildings, completing Big Corkscrew Island Regional Park, as well as building a new VA Nursing Home and a mental health facility. Some money will also be set aside in a trust fund for buying land for affordable and workforce housing, according to One Collier, a lobbying effort for the tax.

“Don’t think of a time-limited, voter-approved increase as a burden. We should use this as an opportunity to come together as One Collier, united behind one plan to improve infrastructure, enhance public safety and expand our workforce for the long-term success of our community,” said One Collier chairman J. Dudley Goodlette.

Collier’s tax is expected to raise about $495 million, of which $420 million would go to the county, with the rest split between the cities of Naples, Marco Island, and Everglades City.

On January 1, the sales tax rate in Collier County will be 7 percent, and the tax is set to expire in 2025.

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