A petition is circulating among residents to dissolve the city citing high taxes
By LEGION TAYLOR
A petition has been mailed out to the citizens in St. Marks that calls for the dissolution of the city government.
The petition, circulated by St. Marks resident Robert Gee, comes with a letter that makes the case for the city’s dissolution, citing issues like the high property taxes compared to the rest of the county and the increased sewer, water, and garbage bills.
St. Marks city government has faced a financial crisis this year, driven in large part by the cost of operating its sewer system. The city commission has been warned by its accountant that it could face bankruptcy in a couple of years if nothing is done – so city commissioners did a steep increase in utility rates, which created considerable discontent among residents.
Commissioner Paul Sheddan, who was mayor when the rate increase was implemented, said that he’s doing research on the issues mentioned, and that while he doesn’t know if this is the right direction for the city, he does feel that it’s worth discussing.
The letter, which was intended to be mailed to St. Marks voters on the 22nd, draws comparisons between St. Marks and Sopchoppy as well as Panacea.
“If you look around the county, Panacea had a population of 735 people in 2020 and was unincorporated,” the letter states. “Their residents paid no city taxes, but have all the same benefits we enjoy as well as lower water, sewer, and garbage bills.”
It also brings up the higher property tax rates within the city of St. Marks, asking “Why would someone move to St. Marks when the tax on a $100,000 property is $600 more than anywhere else in the county, even including Sopchoppy… because they have never imposed a property tax there.”
Properties within St. Marks are taxed of 6 mills per $1,000 of value by the city government – in addition to tax levies by Wakulla County government, the school board, and water management district.
The letter clearly states its position that the best solution to bring down the cost of living for the residents of St. Marks is to dissolve the city. It also states that all the services that the citizens currently enjoy would be taken care of by the county, just without the added expense of city taxes.
The letter also states that in the event that the city government be dissolved, the water and sewer would be taken care of via a St. Marks Area Water and Sewer Agency, similar to how it’s done in Panacea. Though, the Panacea Area Water System was formed from a privately held water company, and it’s unclear whether or not the same could be done with the water in St. Marks, as the city government owns that system.
Something similar happened with the town of Hastings, Florida, in 2017. The citizens there voted to dissolve the city and its government over increased taxes and utility rates, and the county government there took over the city’s property, assets, and liabilities.
In Hastings, water rates did go down after the city was dissolved, but that is only because the county government decided not to impose a special taxing district or utility surcharge in that area, meaning the rates in St. Marks might or might not go down should the city government be dissolved.
When contacted and asked to further explain his stance, Gee said he had not been pleased with the St. Marks government for over 20 years. He added that the city government impedes the process of construction by adding an extra layer of bureaucracy, and that the city “has no business trying to operate a utility.”
Charles McMurry, a former city attorney for St. Marks, is also in favor of the petition. McMurry expressed concerns that the city government of St. Marks didn’t really accomplish anything for the people, and that all the services it provides could be provided by the county, as everyone in St. Marks is still paying Wakulla County taxes as well as city taxes.
“As residents, we don’t need anything from the city and should not have to pay taxes simply to support a poorly run, semi-insolvent government entity,” McMurry said. “Life would go on as before and we would have more money in our pockets to spend…. it’s a win-win for all.”
Should the petition receive enough signatures (10 percent of the population of St. Marks), it would require that the city commission enact ordnance to dissolve St. Marks, which the citizens could then vote on.
The vote would be held either on the next general election day or in a special election, which the city commission would decide.
Mayor Steve Remke declined to comment on the situation, electing to wait for the general meeting in February.