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Orange County Commissioners Debate Penny Sales Tax

Traffic congestion is a top concern for Orange County residents. Photo: Alexander Popov  @5step5
Traffic congestion is a top concern for Orange County residents. Photo: Alexander Popov @5step5

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and the Board of County Commissioners met today for the first of two work sessions to consider a penny sales tax for transportation. The county collected more than  11,000 surveys from residents on transportation in the region.

Survey participants said they wanted to see more mass transit, repairs on roads, and better traffic signals to improve their commute.

But Commissioner Betsy Vanderley says residents in Horizon West, most of who drive their own cars, have different concerns.

“That leaves me and my particular area in a bit of a pickle still because we still have to have vehicular roads improved in a very significant way in one of the fastest growing areas of the country.”

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County Administrator Byron Brooks said more than half of the revenue generated from the sales tax will be used to improve and expand roads.

But he said public transportation is still needed for residents who can’t afford a car or have problems with mobility.

"The transit component certainly provides us the greatest opportunity to meet some emerging needs to really develop some of the patterns that we project will be more prevalent in the future in terms of the ability to move people around and make certain connections especially those in certain economic levels of our communities."

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Commissioner Emily Bonilla says she’s worried the sales tax might hurt local tourism.

“Wouldn’t it benefit the tourism industry to not have an additional tax on their customers? So that is a little bit confusing to me the thought process behind that. That we want to capture the money from tourism but then at the same time we don’t want to use the TDT dollars and it seems like we’re taxing them twice.”

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Mayor Jerry Demings says the Tourism Development Taxes collected from hotel stays wouldn’t be enough to pay for transportation updates.

“Already we have significant demand for TDT revenues today to help us ensure the quality of life that we have when we invest in the performing arts, when we invest in the sporting venues, and everything else that we do.”

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The Commissioners will meet for a second work session in March before they decide whether to add the penny sales tax to the November ballot.
If you'd like to listen to the story, click on the clips above.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.