GazetteXtra Print Article Logo URL: http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/With-Penny-for-Pinellas-approval-wishlists-get-more-real_162414174


With Penny for Pinellas approval, wishlists get more real

By Mark Puente
The Penny for Pinellas 1-cent sales tax is a decade-long tax used to fund infrastructure improvements in the county. [Pinellas County]

With an estimated $2 billion coming in the next decade or so, county and city officials can now start planning to build bridges, fire stations and sewer upgrades.

But it’s still too early to start cutting checks.

Officials will have to wait until 2020 to start spending the money collected from the next iteration of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax. On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly approved –– 83 percent –– to extend the 1 percent sales tax between 2020 and 2030.

Commissioner Charlie Justice said politics didn’t enter into the renewal process because commissioners, constitutional officers, mayors and council members all asked voters to renew the tax.

"It was pretty mainstream and it wasn’t a partisan issue," Justice said.

County government is projected to get the largest share –– $1.1 billion –– of the money in the coming decade. St. Petersburg, the largest city, would get $326 million. Clearwater follows with $141 million, and Largo with $102 million.

Projections show that county government and Pinellas’ 24 cities will split an estimated $2 billion in revenue in that decade. The totals could fluctuate each year, especially if the economy tanked. But the figures already factor for a minor recession, Justice added.

Officials will use the money on an array of projects such as libraries, road paving, recreation centers and equipment for first responders.

Months ago, each municipality submitted lists of possible projects on the drawing board. Given that the money can only be spent between 2020 and 2030, the wish lists aren’t specific and don’t list exact costs. The lists do, however, lump projects into categories such as public safety, recreation and infrastructure.

For example, Largo officials plan to continue to buy and fire vehicles, but the wish lists don’t detail quantities or prices.

So why were residents asked to renew a tax two years before it would be collected?

Elected leaders said it’s essential to start planning major projects like libraries, bridges, recreation centers and public safety complexes years before any shovel hits the ground.

In the past year, county and city officials spent hundreds of hours touting the tax. They pointed to completed projects such as bridges, libraries and recreation centers that were built and paid for with the Penny tax. Officials also erected signs in front of buildings, bridges and recreation centers to tell voters that the tax helped get them built.

With such strong support to renew the tax, the vote even exceeded polling results, Justice said.

Since the tax has been in place for three decades, Justice said it was easy to show residents the value. Voters will see even more value in the next decade as projects get underway, especially in an area like Lealman where a recreation center will get built.

"Hopefully, the projects will reflect what people want in their communities," Justice said. "We feel pretty good."

Where it goes

The Penny for Pinellas sales tax is estimated to raise nearly $2 billion between 2020 and 2030. Here are some ways the county and several cities plan to spend part of its share:

Pinellas County

•$412 million on roads, bridges and trails

•$183 million on water quality, flood water and sewer spill preventions

•$165 million for community centers, libraries and recreation centers

•$165 million to support economic development and housing

•$91 million on emergency evacuation shelters, communication towers and first-responder vehicles

•$60 million on jail and court facilities

St. Petersburg

•$257 million for wastewater and stormwater projects; sidewalks, bridges and seawalls

•$45 million to replace two recreation centers and upgrade others; improvements to the Mahaffey Theater and St. Petersburg Coliseum

•$17 million on fire and police vehicles; improvements to the Police Department’s K-9 compound

• $6 million to improve fire stations and other facilities

Clearwater

•$28 million to replace the Sand Key Bridge

•$20 million on utilities infrastructure

•$18 million on a new City Hall and public works complex

•$15 million on beach marina upgrades

•$14 million on athletic fields and facilities

•$11 million on police, fire and public safety vehicles

Largo

•$3.5 million annually for road paving and reconstruction

•Rebuild three to four fire stations

•Stormwater infrastructure and police and fire vehicles

Source: Government records

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente