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County, school officials gear up for Penny for Pasco campaign

LAND O'LAKES — Top school district and county officials huddled Wednesday to plan their strategy for selling a renewed Penny for Pasco sales tax to voters this November.

The second round of the tax would begin in 2015 and generate an estimated $502 million over 10 years to be split between the school district, the county and Pasco's six cities. Proposed projects include school renovations, intersection improvements and new economic development incentives.

"It's improvement of quality of life," said Hutch Brock, the co-chairman of the Pasco Citizens Committee political group that is promoting the renewal. "It is for making our schools competitive and bringing them up with the infrastructure they need."

Brock argued there are "tons of differences" in the political landscape from when the tax was adopted in 2004.

"We have a lot of new people that have moved in, but polling shows they recognize the need for capital and infrastructure improvement," he said. "Totally different than the way it was 10 years ago."

Other changes include a historic economic collapse and a track record from the current Penny that voters can analyze, he said.

As a longtime supporter of the Penny, County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand is raising money for the renewal campaign. Her goal: To match the more than $200,000 spent on the 2004 campaign. Donors so far have given her a good response: "They're not turning me down yet," she said.

Wednesday's meeting of commissioners and School Board members also included the nuts and bolts of getting the renewal on the Nov. 6 ballot. A key step is fine-tuning what will actually show up on the ballot. Commissioners will approve the final ballot language in July.

Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker said the summary will clearly describe the tax while explaining the importance of the projects.

"Somebody should be able to walk into the ballot box, read this language and go, 'Yes, that's a great idea. I'd love to do this,' " she said. "And punch 'yes.' "

Officials made tweaks to the ballot language to make it more conversational. There was also talk about whether to include a specific breakdown of proceeds: 45 percent to the county, 45 percent to the school district and the remaining 10 percent divided among the cities based on population.

County Administrator John Gallagher said the percentages would add a level of transparency, while some commissioners said they should be left out to make it more simple.

So how would the money be used? The school district's share is $226 million. The bulk of that, about $173 million, would go toward renovating 20 schools, many of which were built in the 1970s.

"Due to the flattening of student growth, we no longer have the urgent need to build new schools," said district planning director Chris Williams. "However, we still have significant renovations on our older campuses."

Another $44 million would be spent on classroom technology upgrades, including computers to help meet a state requirement that some tests be conducted online. About $8 million would be spent on campus safety projects and new playground equipment.

The county's share would be split as follows: $90 million for transportation improvements and $45 million each for public safety equipment, environmental land acquisition and a new economic development trust fund. The cities have not yet finalized how they plan to spend their $50 million share.

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

County, school officials gear up for Penny for Pasco campaign 05/30/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 10:05pm]
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