By Ed Albanesi
A few years ago I did something very unusual for me. I voted in favor of a sales tax increase here in St. Johns County.
The 0.5 percent sales surtax was approved by voters and will remain in force for 10 years. Tax receipts will help build new schools and fund other selected capital improvements in the school system.
I sit on a citizen’s advisory committee to the County School Board and one of the committee’s charges is to keep a public eye on how the sales surtax is spent. Revenue brought in approaches $20 million annually.
This column is going to experience an abrupt change of direction at this point but readers who stick with me to the end will discover the literary roads traveled come together quite nicely. I promise.
Our family needed to replace a living room recliner about six weeks ago. We were intrigued by ads for a furniture store in neighboring Putnam County, which boasted an acre of furniture under one roof and more than 500 recliners in its showroom.
So my wife and I figured it was worth the short drive to Palatka to check out the store’s selection of recliners. We also had not eaten lunch at Niko’s Pizza in years and wanted to see if its food was as good as it used to be. It is.
The furniture store (I won’t name it, but I’ve given enough clues to make its identity obvious) wasn’t lying about its selection of recliners. They had a bunch.
We were looking for a recliner that rocked and swiveled and these restrictions limited our choices. Still, after about 30 minutes of rocking and reclining, we were able to find a chair that got high grades from both of us.
The sale price was $749 and the furniture store would provide free delivery to our St. Augustine home. A good price, a good chair and good customer service; what more could you ask for? Read on.
When we went to pay for our purchase I reminded the salesman he should assess us 6.5 percent sales tax since the recliner was to be delivered to our home in St. Johns County. The sales tax in Putnam County is 7 percent. I am not certain what the extra 1 percent surtax funds in that county.
To make a long story short, the salesman said he would have to charge us the higher rate because he was not set up to assess different sales tax amounts based on the delivery destination. It wasn’t a deal breaker for us so we agreed to pay the higher rate, which amounted to an additional $3.75.
I was fairly certain I was correct and the St. Johns County tax rate should have been assessed and decided to investigate the issue. The next day I went online to the Florida Department of Revenue website and found document GT-800019 that states, in part, “If a selling dealer located in any Florida county with or without a discretionary surtax sells and delivers into counties with different discretionary surtax rates, surtax is collected at the county rate where the delivery is made.”
I had also contacted the Department and received a return call from “Jasmine,” who confirmed that we should have been assessed the lower St. Johns County rate.
I passed this information along to the furniture store via email and Facebook message, but I haven’t heard back from them.
Which brings us to the intersection of the first and second roads traveled in this story of mine. Our local schools were denied $3.75 in tax revenue because furniture store personnel in a neighboring county didn’t know and/or apply the correct tax-collection rules.
And, based on the volume of advertising this furniture store directs at St. Johns County residents, I am confident that ours was not an isolated incident.
Getting the procedures fixed should not be rocket science for my furniture friends in Putnam County. And I will check to see if they have done so before making another trip to their store for future potential purchases. I invite readers to do the same.
(Coming soon. Another sales tax story based on a recent personal experience at Disney World. Spoiler: I was right; Disney wasn’t.)