County leaders are beginning a push to renew the Penny for Pasco sales tax, and there are early talks to use some of the new revenue to attract jobs to the county.
It would be a new use for the money, which currently pays for school construction, roads, environmental land preservation and public safety equipment. But nearly a quarter of respondents to an online survey by the county said officials should use some of the sales tax money for economic development.
"When I talk with the economic development folks, they've got a very broad vision," Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker said. "But I'm not sure what citizens had mind when they said that."
But she hopes to discuss some ideas. Officials are hosting three community meetings this month where a major topic will be renewing Penny for Pasco, which is expected to go on the November ballot. Baker plans to discuss results of the county's online questionnaire and a separate survey conducted by a national firm.
She also wants feedback on next year's county budget and on a long-term "strategic plan" that guides county policy.
The current sales tax is set to be collected through 2014 and is projected to bring in about $420 million over the 10-year life of the tax, slightly less than the original estimate. As a sweetener to pick up votes, the tax also included a school tax rate rollback of 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
Supporters wanted to schedule a renewal vote this year to avoid a lapse in collections.
County Administrator John Gallagher said state law used to restrict the sales tax revenue to capital projects. In economic development terms, that mostly meant paying for roads when a project came to Pasco. But the law recently changed to allow up to 15 percent of the money to be used for incentives.
"Everybody's talking about jobs, jobs," he said. "I thought it was a pretty good idea."
Another potential use would be creating a so-called incubator that gives businesses startup capital or helps small companies expand.
Gallagher said it's still too early to know what percentage of the tax revenue — if any — would go toward economic development. It might mean that other programs take a slight hit.
Or, he said, the county could maintain the same formula for current programs. Economic development programs could get the growth from revenue — collections that exceed the original amount of money from the first 10 years.
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.