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Officials begin push for Penny for Pasco sales tax extension

LAND O'LAKES — County officials kicked off their Penny for Pasco sales pitch this week, giving a detailed presentation about the first round of the 1 percent sales tax and sharing their plans if voters renew the tax this November.

Thursday night's meeting of the Pasco Alliance of Community Associations was the first of dozens of similar presentations administrators hope to give over the next few months at neighborhood groups, Rotary clubs and chamber of commerce events.

"It is word of mouth, it is explaining," said Michele Baker, chief assistant county administrator. "It is standing up and owning what we are doing."

State law prohibits county officials from using public money to "expressly advocate" for the Penny renewal. Fliers and slideshow presentations can't tell people to "vote for" or "support" the renewal effort.

But officials are free to talk about what the current Penny has bought, how closely the School Board and county commissioners have tracked the funding, and how much the first decade of sales tax collections saved in property taxes.

Baker got a mostly friendly crowd Thursday at the Land O'Lakes Community Center.

"I don't doubt the Penny will continue on," said Jim Moeller, with the Eiland Park Townhomes Association. "It's a fair tax."

Added Land O'Lakes resident Linda Hope: "I remember the years before the Penny tax passed. There were not a lot of road projects going on."

Moeller's only complaint is that the tax is billed as an "infrastructure surtax." But plans include spending some of the revenue on upgrades to the radio system for first responders and on laptops for sheriff's cruisers. To Moeller, infrastructure means roads and sewer projects.

"It still appears you're stretching the thing," he said. "You don't go in there with a bunch of jargon and stretch it out to where infrastructure includes a laptop."

Baker said state law spells out exactly what local governments can the use the money for. It cannot be used for salaries or maintenance, but instead for capital projects of at least $750. Sheriff's laptops and an upgraded radio system fit that bill.

"There's certainly no intention to obfuscate," she said.

Said PACA President Jim Flateau: "When you're outfitting a police vehicle, having that laptop is just as important as having weapons or the brakes."

The second round of the Penny would run from January 2015 through December 2024. It is projected to bring in $502 million, with 45 percent going to the School District, another 45 percent for the county and the remaining 10 percent divided among Pasco's six cities.

The School District plans to spend the bulk of its share on several renovation and remodeling projects at older schools. It would also spend about $36 million on technology upgrades throughout the district.

County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to the breakdown of their $226 million share: 40 percent for roads, trails and public transportation; 20 percent for public safety equipment; 20 percent for acquiring environmental lands; and 20 percent for economic development.

Lawmakers recently allowed counties and cities to spend a portion of their infrastructure sales tax on economic development. Pasco's portion could go toward business incentives or it could provide services to small businesses that want to expand. It might also create a so-called incubator for start-up companies or build utility lines and roads for a large business moving in.

The renewal will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

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

Officials begin push for Penny for Pasco sales tax extension 06/15/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 15, 2012 7:51pm]
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