Pasco poll: We’ll pay for parks, libraries

Published February 1 2018

DADE CITY — A majority of Pasco voters say they likely would pay higher taxes to maintain and improve the county’s existing network of parks and libraries, according to a newly released poll.

But exactly how much they are willing to pay isn’t clear, and those responding are less supportive of adding new facilities.

Those are some of the key findings in polling by Clearview Research for Pasco County as commissioners consider how to pay for services and whether to ask voters for a new tax referendum in November.

The polling included both a scientific poll of 401 telephone interviews in late November, plus 605 responses to an on-line survey. The telephone survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Among the findings in the scientific poll:

• Sixty-four percent said they definitely or probably would vote "yes’’ for higher taxes to improve and expand local parks and libraries. Thirty-four percent said they probably or definitely would vote "no.’’

• Voters were split on whether to they would be willing to pay $6 extra a month for parks and libraries with 49 percent saying "no’’ and 48 percent saying "yes.’’ Support dwindled as the proposed dollar amount increased to $8 or $10 monthly.

The $6-per-month figure equates to a one-eighth mill increase on a private residence valued at $100,000. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

• Fifty-one percent disagreed with the statement "I am not willing to raise my local property taxes and am opposed to any tax increase for this purpose.’’

• In the non-scientific on-line survey, 59 percent of respondents said they would pay $6 a month extra for parks and libraries, but that support also dropped when higher amounts were suggested. Only 36 percent said they would pay $10 monthly in additional taxes.

• The scientific survey found respondents more willing to pay new taxes if it meant keeping, maintaining or protecting high-quality parks and library services. They were somewhat more resistant to tax increases for new and/or expanded services, pollsters told commissioners.

If approved, the higher tax rate would provide an $11 million budget to the libraries, allowing all branches to open Mondays. It also would maintain and renovate existing branches and assume the operating expenses of the Starkey Ranch branch when it opens in 2021. Currently, only the Land O’Lakes and Regency Park branches operate on Mondays.

For the parks department, the higher tax rate would bring its annual budget to $20.5 million to maintain current services and begin whittling the multimillion-dollar list of deferred maintenance projects.

"We can’t just keep pushing things off and not taking care of them,’’ said Commissioner Ron Oakley.

Likewise, Commissioner Jack Mariano pointed out how much more neighboring counties spend on parks, libraries and other cultural services.

"I think we need to up our game,’’ said Mariano.

He advocated for a voter referendum and would seek buy-in from residential home builders for higher park impact fees. Commissioners balked in 2015 at a proposal to nearly double the park impact fee, approved in 2002, of $891 per new single-family home.

On Tuesday, neither Commission Chairman Mike Wells or Commissioner Mike Moore embraced the referendum sentiment. Both face re-election this year.

Wells suggested the private sector can reduce the parks department’s needs. Moore said he wanted to wait for the updated property tax rolls in the summer before determining how to proceed.

Later, commissioners asked if capital expenses for parks and libraries could be rolled into a larger referendum for public safety. That issue is scheduled to be discussed at a Feb. 13 workshop.

The polling is among the services provided by Consensus Communications of Orlando. Commissioners hired the company in September for an $85,000 public awareness campaign. The company has been asked to determine the level of public support for implementing the county’s 2015 parks master plan, which called for $149 million worth of park expansion and repair projects over the next decade.

Using polling, town hall meetings, social media, informational videos and other techniques, the consultant has been tasked with trying to build consensus to "support our key messages and encourage the County Commission to place the funding of parks on the ballot for voters to decide,’’ according to its county contract.

Contact C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

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