Orange County faces April deadline on sales-tax decision

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If Orange County commissioners plan to ask voters this November to pass a sales-tax increase to pay for transportation projects — the same issue rejected by 58% of those who cast a ballot two years ago — the board must decide by April 23.

The tight deadline is necessary to comply with a state statute which requires an analysis by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability before a tax referendum is added to the ballot.

Speaking with the mayor for the first time since he proposed in a Jan. 26 memo resurrecting the one-cent sales-tax hike, board members doubted Tuesday there was enough time to win over skeptical constituents or even convince themselves.

But Mayor Jerry Demings said he was hopeful after an hour-long discussion.

“I didn’t hear a total no; we don’t want to try, we don’t want to study it, we don’t want to research it,” he said. “At the end of the day, the public wants us to be visionaries, to do something about it and not just keep kicking the can down the road.”

In interviews with the Orlando Sentinel on Monday, Commissioners Nicole Wilson, Emily Bonilla and Mayra Uribe expressed varying degrees of skepticism about the wisdom of a 2024 tax campaign, but said they are willing to discuss it.

The proposed tax also got a boost Tuesday when Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson, representing the west Orange County mayors of Oakland, Ocoee, Windermere and Winter Garden, said they have agreed to support the penny-per-dollar tax increase “but with some significant changes.”

They want a 60-40 revenue split with the smaller share divided between the Lynx bus service and SunRail.

Nelson said the larger share would be divided among cities and the county to “be used as they see fit.”

Demings said he appreciated the communities’ input and looks forward to continuing conversation about their ideas.

During a mid-day recess, the mayor said there is work to be done to provide data and other information that could persuade fellow commissioners, adding all might not get on board. In the end, the majority might say no to another vote, Demings mused.

“But there’s always a cost for doing nothing, too,” he said.

shudak@orlandosentinel.com