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Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU): A taxing scheme that county officials contemplate periodically when they are trying to come up with ways to fund special projects, such as paving roads, providing broadband or other extraordinary service in unincorporated areas.
Or when contemplating bringing roads in private subdivisions up to standard, as has often been the case in the past and is presently.
This time it's residents of Osprey Road in District 4 who are wanting their road improved.
Commissioner Betsy Barfield raised the issue at the Nov. 15 commission meeting. Barfield told her colleagues that a group of residents of Osprey Road were unhappy with the road's condition and wanted the county to take it over or improve it. Barfield told her colleagues not to be surprised if a group of the residents showed up at the next meeting to demand action.
County Coordinator Parrish Barwick, who oversees the Road Department, took exception to the request. He reminded the commission that private roads were not the county's responsibility. Nor did the road department have the manpower, resources or funding to tackle such projects even it wanted to do it, he said.
The discussion was a familiar one, and one that inevitably led to the idea of the MSTU, which previous commissions have explored at length but have never implemented.
An MSTU is essentially a funding mechanism that allows a local government to impose a special ad-valorem tax on properties in certain areas or neighborhoods to fund specified improvements or services that benefit the residents of the specific area or neighborhood.
MSTUs may be created by a citizen-sponsored petition, a voter referendum, or the direct action of the Board of County Commissioners.
Establishment of an MSTU entails a study to determine the cost of the service or project and the necessary amount of the assessment to support the service or project, whether it's fire protection, law enforcement or a road paving. MSTUs are a way of providing a service to a particular area and taxing the individuals that benefit from the service or project, as opposed to spreading the tax burden to the general population.
One of the compelling arguments for the MSTU is that it's fair, as it applies only to the people who benefit from the service or improvement. Otherwise, goes the argument, the 40 or so percent of the county’s population that generally pay taxes would end up footing the bill.
“Close to 50 percent or more of houses in this county don’t pay ad-valorem taxes,” Barwick argued the last time that the issue came up. “You’ve got citizens who utilize the services and don’t pay the bills. You have to stop putting in on the backs of the minority because they have a higher income.”
The last time the MSTU came up as an issue was in July 2017, when the budget faced a $567,815 shortfall that largely stemmed from the requests of the Sheriff Department for additional funding. Among the options discussed were raising property taxes to close the gap or establishing a special taxing district countywide to fund law enforcement. Along the lines of the current fire and landfill assessments.
The idea, however, did not progress beyond the talking stage, as has happened in the past when the issue has surfaced in reference to private subdivisions asking for improvement or resurfacing of their roads.