Those with still-fresh memories of Hurricane Irma will want to take advantage of the upcoming sales tax "holiday."
And it's three days longer this year, from June 1-7. Retailers will be able to sell items without charging state or local taxes, which should drop prices considerably for items people need for the six-month hurricane season, which starts Friday.
For example, a $15 package of batteries won't carry the usual 90 cents to $1.05 in sales taxes. A $750 generator, which would usually run more than $800 after taxes, will still be $750.
One reason for the longer tax holiday is the weather. Florida had hurricane hits from Hurricane Hermine in 2016 and Irma in 2017, after more than a decade without any direct hits.
"Now, after being hit by Irma and everything that happened last year, people are well aware of what they need and what they didn't have last year," said James Miller of the Florida Retail Federation. "They're going to load up this year. We expect it to be very fruitful for retailers, and consumers are going to be able to save a lot of money on their end, as well."
The sales tax holiday hits the state pretty hard, with an estimated $4.6 million drop in revenue. Local governments lose about $1.2 million. However, having residents prepared with supplies – water, food, ice, generators and gasoline – takes a burden off state and local governments, who would otherwise need to provide for those residents in the aftermath of a storm.
On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a forecast for a slightly above-average hurricane season: Ten to 16 named storms, five to nine of them at hurricane status. 2017 saw 17 named storms. Ten became hurricanes, and six reached major storm status.
Mark Wool, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Tallahassee office, said the pre-season outlook should remind people to do storm planning.
"You want to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours. You want to have non-perishable food items, batteries, battery-operated flashlights and radios. You want to make sure you've got a first-aid kit (and) enough prescription medications to get through the event," Wool said. "Some of the most likely outcomes in these things, especially around here, is a power outage that can last a substantial amount of time."
Items Floridians can buy next week without paying sales taxes include:
Portable self-powered light sources for $20 or less.
Portable self-powered radios, two-way radios, or weather band radios for $50 or less.
Tarps or other waterproof sheeting for $50 or less.
Ground anchor systems or tie-down kits for $50 or less.
Gas or diesel fuel tanks for $25 or less.
Packages of batteries, excluding automobile and boat batteries, at $30 or less.
Coolers that cost $30 or less.
Reusable ice packs that costs $10 or less.
Portable generators that cost $750 or less.
In regard to generators, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute recommends customers do their research. Consider the types of items that need power, whether air-conditioners, refrigerators or just cell phones.
Also, consider certain features. Some generators have circuit-breaker protected outlets to prevent overload, or a larger fuel tank to provide extra running time.
Generators also have integrated fuel gauges to watch fuel levels, low-tone mufflers for less noise and even fold-down handles or wheels for easy transport.
While generators should not be run under the same roof as the living space, in closed quarters or just outside open windows or doors, the Institute recommends having carbon monoxide detectors installed in the house as a precaution.
Residents should also be careful with fuel storage, away from heat sources and out of reach of children. Remember, fuel more than 30 days old or with more than 10 percent ethanol should not be used in any outdoor power equipment.
Miller hopes many Floridians will recall the scramble to get supplies in the few days before Irma hit the entire state.
"People can load up early on in the year," Miller said. "You don't have to wait later on in the summer, when potentially a hurricane is coming or has already hit, and it's kind of almost too late to do that kind of stuff."
He also said retailers will roll out discounts, especially in big-box stores.
"They want to capture as much of the audience as they can," Miller said. "It's going to be very popular, and people are going to be going in and out of the stores."
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