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Penny for Pasco wins easy approval

Pasco voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly endorsed the Penny for Pasco sales tax, with more than two-thirds of voters approving another decade of collections for schools, county government and six cities.

"We are happy and pleased that the voters listened and saw the transparency and the good use of the money," said Hutch Brock, co-chairman of a pro-Penny citizens committee. "We are looking forward to having the School Board and the county accountable for the funds."

The first round of the tax expires at the end of 2014. The renewal was winning with just shy of 70 percent of the vote. That means the 1 percent tax will continue through 2024, collecting an estimated $502 million for school renovation, transportation projects, public safety equipment, environmental land acquisition and economic development.

Of the proceeds, the school district and the county will each receive $226 million. Pasco's six cities will split $50 million.

"I'm not normally a big tax and spend kind of guy," said Harold Givens, 52, who voted an all-Republican ballot Tuesday morning at the Meadow Pointe II clubhouse in Wesley Chapel. "But I think it's put to good use."

The campaign wasn't without some last-minute controversy. On Friday evening, the school district released a recorded phone message to parents that some critics deemed out of bounds. The call reminded voters that "our children have a lot riding on the continuation of the Penny for Pasco."

"If approved, the Penny for Pasco will repair and renovate aging schools and equip older schools with the modern technology students need to succeed in the 21st century," the caller said, according to a transcript.

Luane Conn, 53, who lives in New Port Richey's River Ridge community, said she was offended. "I just don't think it's fair," she said. "It's an unfair advantage for their side."

Local governments are prohibited from "expressly advocating" for or against a ballot initiative. But they are allowed to "educate" voters about the first round of the Penny and plans for the second round.

Last month, the county printed 100,000 utility bill inserts that included several positive facts about the tax and said, "Penny for Pasco is the primary funding source to create new jobs and stimulate economic growth." The insert never expressly urges customers to "vote for" the Penny.

School officials sent letters home with all of the district's roughly 67,000 students, telling parents what the Penny has done. The county installed 21 signs near proposed transportation projects that said the work would be completed "if the Penny for Pasco is continued."

The committee supporting the tax extension raised $216,000, including big checks from engineering firms and developers. Nearly every one of Pasco's elected officials supported the Penny.

Unlike the Penny's first campaign in 2004, no organized opposition ever formed against the tax.

Staff Writers Jeffrey S. Solochek and Lisa Buie contributed to this report. Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com.

Penny for Pasco wins easy approval 11/06/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 9:59pm]
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