Sales tax in­crease kicks in Tues­day

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Larry Barszewski

Broward res­i­dents and vis­i­tors start pay­ing Jan. 1 to im­prove the county’s trans­porta­tion sys­tem.

That’s when a voter-ap­proved sales tax in­crease goes into ef­fect. The ex­tra tax will be col­lected for the next 30 years.

The county’s plan is the most ex­pen­sive one in the coun­try ap­proved by vot­ers in 2018, ac­cord­ing to the Eno Cen­ter for Trans­porta­tion in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

If you’re think­ing, “Fi­nally, no more traf­fic jams,” think again. Here’s a primer on the tax in­crease and what to ex­pect in the com­ing months:

It’s only a penny in­crease, right?

The in­crease in the sales tax is a penny — go­ing from 6 cents to 7 cents on each dol­lar you spend — but the tax in­crease will cost you a lot more than one cent. Of­fi­cials es­ti­mate the in­crease for the av­er­age Broward house­hold will be about $174 a year. The more you spend, the more you pay.

Does it only ap­ply to res­i­dents?

No, any­body shop­ping in the county will pay the tax. That means tourists and vis­i­tors will be help­ing to pay for county road im­prove­ments. About 30 per­cent of the pro­ceeds are ex­pected to come from peo­ple who don’t live in the county.

Will ev­ery­thing be taxed?

No. The ex­tra tax will only be on items that are al­ready sub­ject to a sales tax. Gro­ceries, medicines, pre­scrip­tions and med­i­cal equip­ment aren’t taxed.

Also, the ex­tra tax is lim­ited

to the first $5,000 of an item’s cost. So if you’re in the mar­ket for a new car, the added tax will only make at most a $50 dif­fer­ence.

Some of the tax­able items in­clude cloth­ing, ap­pli­ances, elec­tron­ics, jew­elry, restau­rant meals and pre­pared, ready-toeat food you get at a deli.

How much money will the higher sales tax raise?

Of­fi­cials ex­pect to col­lect $15.6 bil­lion over the next 30 years. In its first full year, the tax should raise about $357 mil­lion.

Will Broward County have the high­est sales tax rate in the state?

No, the 7 per­cent sales tax will bring the county to the same level as its neigh­bors, Mi­ami-Dade and Palm Beach coun­ties. Hills­bor­ough County, where vot­ers ap­proved in­creases to­tal­ing 1.5 cents in Novem­ber, will have the top rate at 8.5 per­cent.

What can we ex­pect to see on the roads?

Not a lot. “It takes time to make these things hap­pen,” said Broward Trans­porta­tion Di­rec­tor Chris Wal­ton.

The first year will in­volve a lot of plan­ning and or­ga­niz­ing for the work that is to come, said Tony Hui, the county’s deputy pub­lic works di­rec­tor. Part of that or­ga­niz­ing will be to find city and county projects that can be done at the same time to make them faster and keep costs down.

Are any road projects hap­pen­ing?

County work­ers are pro­ceed­ing with projects bud­geted be­fore the sales tax in­crease was ap­proved. Hui said in­ter­sec­tion im­prove­ments are be­ing de­signed to im­prove traf­fic flow. Those in­clude im­prove­ments at Oak­land Park Boule­vard in­ter­sec­tions with An­drews Av­enue and with Nob Hill Road, he said.

What are the pri­or­i­ties?

The county wants to get started on im­prove­ments that will have the big­gest im­pact on traf­fic, Hui said, which in­cludes in­ter­sec­tion im­prove­ments and lay­ing out the fiber op­tics needed for im­proved traf­fic sig­nal­iza­tion to re­duce peak traf­fic con­ges­tion at ma­jor in­ter­sec­tions.

What else might cause project de­lays?

The county ex­pects to get match­ing state and fed­eral grants for many of the larger projects be­ing planned. The timetable for those projects will de­pend on how quickly the out­side money can be se­cured. Of­fi­cials es­ti­mate the county could re­ceive at least $3 bil­lion in match­ing funds.

What’s in store for bus rid­ers?

Wal­ton said the county will be­gin rolling out im­prove­ments to the bus sched­ule by mid-2019, restor­ing routes that had been cut for bud­get rea­sons in the past. The county will also be or­der­ing a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of new buses, but those gen­er­ally take a year to ar­rive and pre­pare for ser­vice, he said.

When will a light rail ar­rive?

County of­fi­cials are mak­ing no prom­ises about light rail, other than to say it’s an op­tion that could make sense for the county.

There is money for 26 miles of rail lines in the plan, but of­fi­cials — after Fort Laud­erdale’s Wave street­car de­ba­cle, which was killed in 2018 after con­tin­u­ally es­ca­lat­ing costs and grow­ing op­po­si­tion — don’t want to com­mit to any­thing un­less they have com­mu­nity back­ing first.

“We learned a lot dur­ing that process. I would hope that this time we would be able to han­dle that process much more smoothly,” Wal­ton said.

A 2002 sales tax in­crease in Mi­amiDade County had promised sig­nif­i­cant rail projects, but all that has been built to date is a three-mile ex­ten­sion of Metro­rail.

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