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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Mar. 8, 2022 5 months ago

Mayor Jerry Demings proposes sales tax to fund traffic solutions

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The Orange County mayor hopes voters will endorse the tax, which he said will fund improvements to local public transportation.
by: Chris Martucci Sports Editor

Fifteen booths and various Orange County representatives presented myriad solutions to the county’s ongoing — and worsening — transportation issues for the county’s Transportation Open House, held Monday, Feb. 28, at Windermere High School.

But, officials said, none of the solutions come cheap.

So, in addition to the renderings and bullet points, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings also proposes a transportation sales tax, which he said would help build the funds necessary to install the plan the county is proposing. 

Billed as the Transportation Funding Initiative, the proposal lists many ways transportation infrastructure in Orange County can be improved. A major part of this proposal is to bolster public transportation, such as doubling the size of the Lynx bus system with more routes and longer operating hours, as well as adding to the SunRail line. 

Another key part of the initiative is making the roads safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. A study conducted by a national road safety institute ranked Florida the No. 1 most dangerous state for pedestrians.

“Orange County is a hub for the region,” Demings said. “We can’t address traffic outside of Orange County if we don’t take care of it inside.” 

The current sales tax rate in Orange County is 6.5%, which is the lowest of the four counties surrounding the Orlando area, Demings said. Osceola County has the highest at 7.5%, while Lake and Seminole counties are at 7%. Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista would be exempt from the tax because they are charter cities. 

Demings said tourists would be the most affected by this potential sales tax increase. County estimates showed tourists paid about 51% of taxes in Orange County. The exceptions to this increase would be groceries, prescriptions and medications, medical supplies and utilities. 

To get this proposal on the November ballot, the paperwork has to be submitted by May 12. The county government also would be sharing the revenue made from this tax with municipalities. 

“If we are successful in Orange County, then others will follow,” Demings said. 

According to county officials, the population of the entire county, which consists of 1,000 square miles and 13 individual municipalities, is about 1.43 million residents by the latest estimates, with many more coming every week. 

Orange County is now the fifth-largest county in the state — behind only three South Florida counties and Hillsborough County. 

The Transportation Open House featured 15 vendor booths from various Orange County Government agencies and the cities of Winter Garden and Oakland to answer questions about some ongoing projects, as well. 

“This is the beginning of the discussion, not the end,” Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson said. “We’re excited to hear what you all have to say and look forward to working with the community as we move forward with this.” 

The county will be having five additional meetings in March with residents to gather their thoughts and opinions. Residents also can fill out a survey at ocfl.net/Transportation.

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Chris Martucci is the sports editor for the West Orange Times & Observer,  Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. He holds a master's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism, as well as a bachelor's degree in...

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