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Residents may face tax increase to fund Santa Rosa County jail expansion

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Santa Rosa County residents could be asked to support a sales tax increase next year in order to generate money to pay for an expansion at the county jail.

On Monday, Oct. 9th, Santa Rosa County Sheriff Bob Johnson asked county commissioners for permission to use the former Juvenile Justice building near the jail. He wants to use the space to house 60 inmates, and relieve jail overcrowding.

Instead, Commissioner Sam Parker is suggesting a sales tax increase to pay for expansion at the current jail.

"That one-half cent sales tax to be used for the jail," Parker said, "but also to build a new courthouse as well as other needs for the sheriff's office."

Sheriff Bob Johnson likes the idea, saying "The tourists would help to pay for this, and more importantly people that we arrest. A high percentage have an alcohol issue, they go buy beer, alcohol. They would actually be subsidizing this as well."

If approved, the tax would last ten years and generate an estimated $7 million a year. The county would then have the option of letting it expire, or getting voters to renew it.

Santa Rosa County Commissioner Don Salter says it's a better plan than raising property taxes or creating another tax with a municipal services benefit unit.

"I'm a big proponent of sales tax, so everybody pays. I'd like to see more about it, but initially, think it's a good idea," Salter said.

The half cent sales tax increase would boost the county's rate from seven percent to seven and a half percent.

Commissioners would give voters the ultimate say at a special election which would cost about $144,000.

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