The IRS reports the average refunds are down 8 percent this year. (Associated Press)
Voters in five South Florida cities are being asked to raise their taxes just as some are feeling the pinch of shrinking IRS refund checks.
Don’t worry about those smaller refunds, election consultants would tell city leaders; voters won’t use them as a reason to reject the local initiatives.
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That’s because they say residents are more worried about failing services — not enough parks, crumbling roads and pipes, deteriorating public buildings — than not getting as big a tax refund as last year.
But the consultants also say the cities with March 12 elections missed a golden opportunity in November, when South Florida voters approved 10 of 11 tax increases at the polls.
“There was something in the atmosphere,” Tallahassee-based consultant Steve Vancore said. “It was a watershed year all over the state. … They passed almost universally, without exception.”
Tax initiatives in recent years have been receiving strong public support, Vancore said, though he cautioned nothing’s guaranteed, especially in a low-turnout election, when opponents might be more motivated to show up than supporters.
At stake in March:
— Fort Lauderdale is seeking up to $300 million for two bonds, one for a new police station and the other for parks, recreation and other projects.
— Hollywood wants $165 million, with three ballot questions covering parks, police and fire facilities and sea walls to protect against rising seas.
— Highland Beach is looking for $45 million in three ballot questions for storm water improvements, street and park improvements and to underground electrical wires.
— Jupiter has a $20 million ballot issue for land acquisition, and Loxahatchee Groves wants $4 million for roadway improvements.
Hollywood decided not to put its bond issues before voters in November because they would have gotten lost on the lengthy ballot amid all of the other ballot questions.
“Creating a special election in March would create a focus for voters on a sole subject: improvements for the city,” Mayor Josh Levy said. “We want people to study it. We want people to know the issues.”
Marilyn Mammano, a Fort Lauderdale resident who heads her city’s infrastructure task force, thinks the recent successes for other ballot issues have come from voters realizing their cities and counties are falling behind in critical areas.
“The citizens got to the point where they felt something had to be done. They took a leap of faith,” Mammano said.
“I think we’re still in the leap of faith area for voters next month,” she said. “You never know until you actually get there.”
As for the smaller federal refund checks, the IRS is estimating this year’s refunds to date have shrunk about 8 percent. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said the difference probably isn’t great enough to affect voters.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to get rich over their tax refunds,” Trantalis said.
The smaller refunds are due to the tax law championed by President Donald Trump that gave workers larger paychecks by reducing the amount of money being withheld for taxes.
Clearwater-based consultant Beth Rawlins said voters separate government dysfunction at the federal and state level from what is happening in their own cities.
“I think that when people decide how they’re going to vote on a local initiative, it’s more directly associated with their quality of life and they make their decision based on that,” Rawlins said.
Voters also realize that state government is providing funding for a lot less than it did in the past. Vancore said.
“When your roads start to crumble, you want a solution, and you’re not getting that solution from Tallahassee,” Vancore said. “The state’s just not keeping up with growth in the state. Infrastructure needs are falling behind.”
lbarszewski@SunSentinel.com, 954-356-4556 or Twitter @lbarszewski