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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 1 month ago

Oakland holds transportation listening session

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Town residents shared their thoughts of Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings’ proposed one-cent sales tax increase for transportation issues.
by: Eric Gutierrez Staff Writer

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings took his advocacy efforts to Oakland in a recent meeting — spreading the word about the potential one-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation needs.

Demings has held more than 150 meetings in various communities throughout the county in an effort to engage residents about his mission to get a proposed one-cent sales tax increase on the November 2020 ballot. Through his community engagement efforts, Demings hopes to craft a plan on how the proposed sales tax increase would work based on the input residents have given in the various community meetings. County leaders also will be considering input from the more than 10,000 surveys related to traffic and transportation needs that Orange County residents have submitted.

Due to tourism and continued, rapid growth in Orange County, the county is in need of a dedicated funding source to pay for transportation and infrastructure needs throughout the area. Demings believes the proposed sales tax increase is the best solution to generate enough funds to address the county’s transportation issues. 

If approved, the tax would generate about $596 million each year, which would help fund Lynx, SunRail and other transportation-related projects in the county. The sales tax would be applied to retail goods and services and not prescription drugs, utilities or essential food items. Additionally, tourists would be contributing more than half of the monies that would be derived from the sales tax increase rather than putting the full tax burden on local residents.

“Any other scenario puts 100% of the burden on the backs of the people who live here, and it would be inadequate,” Demings said. 

When it comes to traffic-related concerns for Oakland residents, some in attendance commented on the traffic impacts from Lake County residents, as well as traffic signalization issues. 

“We are on the border of Lake County,” Resident Judy Rosser said during the meeting. “We see a tremendous impact from Lake County residents accessing our area, so is there any way that Lake County shares in the burden?”

Demings said, depending on the outcome of the proposed sales tax increase, Lake County could implement a similar plan.

“In order to solve our transportation challenges, we’ll take regional solutions,” Demings said regarding traffic attributed to Lake County residents traveling through Orange County. “Lake County is placing very close attention to what is happening in Orange (County). They have similar challenges, and I believe if we’re successful in Orange (County), you’re going to see Lake County come back and try to also do a half-penny or a penny sales tax as well.”

When it comes to traffic signalization, Rosser said signal timing in Oakland could use some improvements.

“Making a turn onto the turnpike — the signals are just (slow),” Rosser said. “You wait forever to make a turn. I think (that) and maintaining and repairing the existing roads, those are my top two (concerns).”

Renzo Nastasi, transportation planning manager at Orange County, said the county is planning to upgrade the traffic signal system as a whole throughout the county. He added if the sales tax is approved, funding from it would only help efforts related to traffic signal improvements. 

“Part of the challenge is that you have unincorporated Orange County and you have all the municipalities,” Nastasi said. “By and large, everybody sort of manages their own (traffic signal) system, so there’s not that coordination that used to happen (with the signals). So, one of the concepts that we’re thinking about is the possibility of having a single system — with the exception of the City of Orlando; they’re large and they manage their program pretty well — having a coordinated system with all the municipalities we have in Orange County, including unincorporated Orange County.”

Eric Gutierrez is a staff writer with the West Orange Times & Observer and the West Orange Observer. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015 with a double major in Journalism and Political Science. Contact Eric at...

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