Monday, December 18, 2017
Politics

Here's your primer on the Penny for Pasco

Buried down at the bottom of a lengthy ballot is a question to continue the Penny for Pasco sales tax.

The stakes outweigh the ballot placement. At issue is a little more than $500 million over the next decade for the county, school district and Pasco's cities.

"People who are well informed understand the importance of this Penny for Pasco continuation," said Stew Gibbons, co-chairman of a pro-Penny citizen committee that has dotted roadways with signs, sent out fliers and scheduled speakers at community groups.

Voters first approved the Penny in March 2004, raising the sales tax on most purchases in Pasco from 6 percent to 7 percent. Tax collections will run through the end of 2014 and are on track to raise roughly $421 million. About $113 million goes to the Pasco school district to reimburse it for a property tax rollback it offered if voters approved the sales tax hike. Of the rest, the county and school district each get 45 percent, and the six municipalities split the remainder based on population.

The school district's share was pledged to repay construction bonds that built eight new schools and rehabbed 10 others during a building boom in the mid-2000s. The county used its share for road improvements, environmental land purchases and public safety equipment. Another 5 percent was set aside for reserves and construction overruns. The cities used a combined $30 million for various infrastructure projects.

Why is the extension coming up early? Officials were criticized in 2004 for placing the referendum on that year's Democratic presidential primary ballot. This time around, supporters put it on the ballot alongside the presidential election to get the largest number of voters weighing in on the renewal.

Scheduling the vote two years from now also wouldn't give officials much time to plan for the passage or failure of the tax.

If voters approve, the renewal would continue the tax at the same rate, collecting an estimated $502 million through 2024.

The breakdown for the second round is largely the same, but there is one significant change. The tax rollback is no longer included because the Legislature capped the school district's capital tax rate after the Penny first passed. For the second round of the Penny, school officials calculated they could not afford to lower the property tax rate even further.

The county and school district would each get an estimated $226 million of the proceeds, and the cities would split $50 million.

About three-quarters of the schools' share would be spent on renovation and remodeling projects at 18 schools. Another 15 percent would be used for technology upgrades, and the rest would go toward parking improvements, playground equipment and remodeling career academies.

The county plans to spend $90 million on transportation projects such as intersection improvements, walking and biking trails and public transportation equipment. Environmental land acquisition and public safety equipment would each get $45 million.

This round includes one new category: $45 million for economic development. That money can be used for incentives to lure companies, help build a business incubator or add infrastructure to a proposed commercial site.

Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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