ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The Orange County Board of County Commissions spent two hours Tuesday morning in a work session breaking down the results of a community survey in regards to transportation.
This is part of Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings Transportation Initiative to get a One-Cent Transportation Sales Tax on the November 2020 ballot.
"We did our homework," Mayor Jerry Demings told the commissioners Tuesday.
Since May of 2019, the county has hosted more than 200 community engagements, including town halls on the issue.
Mayor Jerry Demings said he’s attended 160 of them. The county has also been collecting surveys and nearly 11,000 were returned at the beginning of the month.
"The community feedback is helping to form the framework for the proposed transportation improvement plan," Demings said. "The plan is essentially guided by what the community has told us.
According to the results, 78% of participants say traffic congestion is their biggest challenge with transportation.
Results show 40 percent of surveyors think commute time is a challenge and 29 percent said SunRail does not run enough.
When asked what are the top priorities to fix those challenges. About 59% percent believe building a mass transit system, others believe maintaining and repairing roads will fix the issue.
Some also suggested widening existing roads.
“Now, we are taking the next steps which is necessary to provide for the solution of the traffic congestion problem that we have,” Demings said with the survey results guiding them. “It is my belief that in order to do this we need a dedicated funding source that will be able to make the transformative results our community needs.”
The four key areas of focus introduced in the work session Tuesday were:
- Operations and Maintenance
County officials took the podium listing ideas of how to improve on those four areas with an estimated total cost of $13.5 Billion to $17 Billion dollars, depending on how much state and federal funding the county will continue to get.
“We have listened to our citizens and the drumbeat has grown louder for action,” Demings said.
According to the Transportation Initiative, the sales tax would generate $596 million a year with 51% of the tourists paying the tax the Mayor says.
“In all transparency, some of what happens here will take decades to get to because they are enormous projects with complexities,” Demings said.
However, there could be some short-term solutions. According to Mayor Demings, if passed in November, the revenue could begin coming in as early as January 2021.
He believes there are some short-term projects that money could begin going through, officials saying it would have to go through oversight committees beforehand then.
"You can begin to see us address things like bus rapid transit lanes pedestrian safety features and other things we can put in place in a short period of time," Demings said.
Commissioner Emily Bonilla expressed several concerns at the work session Tuesday, asking also why Tourist Development Tax dollars (TDT funds) can't help with this issue.
“If we are looking for a tourist to pay 51% of this tax, why doesn’t this board support using the TDT tax for transportation?” Bonilla asked at the meeting.
According to state law, TDT funds are not allowed to be used for transportation, however, Mayor Demings said if that were an option, those funds are tied up to many other items the county offers like performing arts and sporting events.
“The TDT money in our humble opinion is inadequate,” Demings said. “It’s multi-billion-dollar needed, $13.5-$17.9 billion, our Tourist Development Tax brought $283 million.”
Now, after releasing the results of the survey, county officials will use that as a framework to come up with a detailed plan. They will present that plan to the Board of County Commissioners on March 4. The board will vote whether or not to approve the sale-tax be on the ballot in November.
You can read more on the Transportation Initiative here.