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Bunting offers idea for spending Penny for Pasco

Here's one idea for spending part of a renewed Penny for Pasco sales tax: switching to school buses that run on natural gas. And the proposal comes from an unlikely source.

Pasco GOP state committeeman Bill Bunting, who lead the opposition to the tax in 2004, is now offering a suggestion on how to spend the money. He has long been an advocate of natural gas fleets and says now is the time for Pasco to invest in a fueling station.

A major portion of existing Penny funding pays for new school construction. But Bunting argues the school district's student population has stayed level for several years and there are currently no plans to build new schools. Buying natural gas buses with the sales tax money would save money in the long term, he said.

"A lot of money went for school funding to build new schools," he said. "If you're maxed out at 67,000 students, and it looks like there might be a lull in the action, what I'm asking is, where is that money going and is there a better use for it?"

Bunting and other supporters tout that America has plentiful natural gas reserves. Using more of the fuel in cars and trucks could help the country wean itself off foreign oil. He also points to the $2 per gallon cost of natural gas, compared with diesel that is more than $4 per gallon.

"The savings are significant, and you get twice the engine life," he said. "It's the right thing to do."

Bunting is not a supporter of the effort to renew the Penny. He said he would like to see more information on whether the current round of money has been spent well.

"We've got to see if the money is being used wisely, that's the critical thing," he said.

If the tax is extended, he said, it should include a natural gas component. Bunting is scheduled to make his case to county commissioners at Tuesday's board meeting in New Port Richey.

County Administrator John Gallagher pointed to a poll commissioned last year by Penny supporters that shows 78 percent of likely Pasco voters would support renewing the 1 percent sales tax. Given those figures, Gallagher said, it makes sense that Bunting would ask for part of the money for the natural gas project.

"The School Board and the county did a good job in spending the money the way we told the residents we were going to spend it," he said. "It's not a bad issue to kind of jump on the bandwagon."

Gallagher has been working for weeks with Bunting and Commissioner Henry Wilson on the push for natural gas. A key challenge, he said, is finding enough demand to justify building a fueling station.

He's held several meetings with garbage haulers and representatives from Clearwater Gas and Tampa Electric Co.'s Peoples Gas. But talks have stalled with school district officials.

Tad Kledzik, the school district supervisor for transportation maintenance, said the move doesn't make economic sense right now.

Though natural gas is cheaper by the gallon, Kledzik pointed to data from bus manufacturer Blue Bird showing natural gas buses get about 2 miles per gallon, compared with an 8 mpg diesel bus.

"I'm going to burn more compressed natural gas than I'm going to burn in diesel," he said.

Plus, he said, natural gas buses come at a $30,000 premium.

"For every three buses I buy, I could've bought a fourth diesel," he said. "It kind of goes beyond simply the price per gallon. When you start to dig in more, there's a lot more facets to the equation."

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

by lee logan

Times Staff Writer

Here's one idea for spending part of a renewed Penny for Pasco sales tax: switching to school buses that run on natural gas. And the proposal comes from an unlikely source.

Pasco GOP state committeeman Bill Bunting, who lead the opposition to the tax in 2004, is now offering a suggestion on how to spend the money. He has long been an advocate of natural gas fleets and says now is the time for Pasco to invest in a fueling station.

A major portion of existing Penny funding pays for new school construction. But Bunting argues the school district's student population has stayed level for several years and there are currently no plans to build new schools. Buying natural gas buses with the sales tax money would save money in the long term, he said.

"A lot of money went for school funding to build new schools," he said. "If you're maxed out at 67,000 students, and it looks like there might be a lull in the action, what I'm asking is, where is that money going and is there a better use for it?"

Bunting and other supporters tout the fact that America has plentiful natural gas reserves. Using more of the fuel in cars and trucks could help the country wean itself off foreign oil. He also points to the $2 per-gallon cost of natural gas, compared with diesel that is more than $4 per gallon.

"The savings are significant, and you get twice the engine life," he said. "It's the right thing to do."

To be clear, Bunting is not a supporter of the effort to renew the Penny. Bunting said he would like to see more information on whether the current round of money has been spent well. "We've got to see if the money is being used wisely, that's the critical thing," he said.

If the tax is extended, he said, it should include a natural gas component. Bunting is scheduled to make his case to county commissioners at Tuesday's board meeting in New Port Richey.

County Administrator John Gallagher pointed to a poll commissioned last year by Penny supporters that shows 78 percent of likely Pasco voters would support renewing the 1 percent sales tax. Given those figures, Gallagher said it makes sense that Bunting would ask for part of the money for the natural gas project.

"The School Board and the county did a good job in spending the money the way we told the residents we were going to spend it," he said. "It's not a bad issue to kind of jump on the bandwagon."

Gallagher has been working for weeks with Bunting and Commissioner Henry Wilson on the push for natural gas. A key challenge, he said, is finding enough demand to justify building a fueling station.

He's held several meetings with garbage haulers and representatives from Clearwater Gas and Tampa Electric Co.'s Peoples Gas. But talks have stalled with school district officials.

Tad Kledzik, the school district supervisor for transportation maintenance, said the move doesn't make economic sense right now.

Though natural gas is cheaper by the gallon, Kledzik pointed to data from the bus manufacturer Blue Bird showing natural gas buses get about 2 miles per gallon, compared with an 8 mpg diesel bus.

"I'm going to burn more compressed natural gas than I'm going to burn in diesel," he said.

Plus, he said, natural gas buses come at a roughly $30,000 premium. "For every three buses I buy, I could've bought a fourth diesel," he said. "It kind of goes beyond simply the price per gallon. When you start to dig in more, there's a lot more facets to the equation."

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Bunting offers idea for spending Penny for Pasco 03/17/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 17, 2012 2:01pm]
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