PYP survey shows support for Education Tax

As the organization has since 2008, the Pensacola Young Professionals recently released its Quality of Life Survey results for this year. This year’s survey indicates a continued climb when it comes to community perception on a variety of fronts, but it also offered up something unexpected: a good number of respondents were in favor of increasing taxes in an effort to help fund local education needs.

“Honestly, I was surprised 74 percent were alright with raising taxes,” mused PYP President Walker Wilson a few days after the survey’s release. “I would never of thought it would be over 50 percent.”

PYP previewed its Quality of Life Survey results during a CivcCon event in September, then formal unveiled the data during a Oct. 15 rollout at the Studer Community Institute. The survey is based on the input of 800 respondents throughout Escambia County.

In what might be considered the survey’s hallmark question, it asks people if they feel like Escambia County and Pensacola are on the “right track” or “wrong track.” In 2008, more than half the respondents held unfavorable views on this.

The response on the this question has grown sunnier over the years, however. This year, in both the county and city, 63 percent of respondents think the area is on the right track, while those feeling the area is on the wrong track has fallen to 23 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

Another survey question ask if the county and city are favorable landscapes for entrepreneurs and new businesses. Traditionally, respondents have taken a sour view on this topic. As late as 2014, those viewing the area as unfavorable in this respect was as high as 72 percent.

This year, those numbers leveled out, with 50 percent feeling good about the area when it comes to welcoming entrepreneurs and new businesses, compared to 47 percent unfavorable and three percent unsure.

Respondents view on the region’s healthcare offerings also improved, though it’s always logged in above the halfway mark. This year, 68 percent of people surveyed had a favorable opinion of the area’s healthcare.

Leading into its education-taxing question, the survey listed two items gauging people’s perception of the well-being of children in the area in terms of education, nutrition, neglect and other general measurements. Sixty-four percent of people responding had an unfavorable view, feeling children deserved increased focus.

The survey also broke this down by county district. While all districts had unfavorable perspectives on this item, districts 5 and 1 had the most unfavorable, with 70 and 73 percents respectively. District 3 had the lowest number of unfavorable responders, with 52 percent.

PYP continued this theme with its next question, one that the non-profit had not asked on its previous surveys. It asked survey respondents if they would be supportive of “Escambia County organizing an intervention to address and better manage the needs and well-being of Escambia’s children.”

The survey found that 74 percent of respondents support such an initiative, while 22 percent opposed it and another three percent were unsure.

“I think that’s by far the biggest bullet-point,” Walker said.

What this indicates is that there may be support for Escambia to levy a tax aimed at supporting education needs. Walker thinks this is indicative of the community’s concerns about educational challenges facing the region.

“Folks are willing to kind of put their money where their mouth is,” he said.

Here’s how such an effort would work: county officials could choose to allow voters to decide if the area should set up a Children’s Services Council taxing district. If such a district is set up, properties within the district would have a maximum of half a millage point added to their property taxes.

“For the average household it’s $40 a year,” Wilson said, explaining that the total haul would add up to around $10 million to be used for educational needs.

While PYP isn’t in the business of actively pushing initiatives such as establishing a taxing district to address education needs, Wilson said that he fully expects other community organizations — such as Achieve Escambia and the Early Learning Coalition — to take the data provided by the survey and run with it, pressing county leaders for action.

“I think what you will see,” he said, “is that other groups are already rallying around this issue.”