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Is it time for officials to utter the T-word?

The children in our domicile have become prolific laundry handlers. The younger one searched the house the other night in a quest for a full basket of clean clothes that needed fluffing and folding. Turns out his mother had promised a financial reward for the completed task.

Call it a juvenile revenue enhancer.

Local governments haven't turned to folding laundry. Yet.

But the ideas for revenue enhancers are bouncing around this campaign and budget season from candidates, elected officials, and staff members as local governments write their first spending plans in the post-Amendment 1 era.

"Revenue enhancers? You mean taxes?'' asked Commissioner Jack Mariano.

Well, not quite. At least not on the county level. T-A-X is akin to blasphemy these days unless C-U-T follows.

However, at least two county commission candidates, Rich Jenkins, a Republican challenging Mariano, and Terri Conroy, a Democrat trying to win the primary for the District 3 seat held by Republican Ann Hildebrand, think Pasco should sell advertising on its public transportation system.

Even Mariano was open to the idea. Initially.

Here's one of the problems. If the commission allows advertising on buses, the county can't discriminate against who purchases the space. So, drive south on U.S. 19 past Ranch Road and notice the bright yellow billboard touting the inventory available at the Pasco Pussycat adult theater in New Port Richey. How would you like to see that splashed across the side of a Pasco County Public Transportation bus?

It also seems counterproductive to sell ads on bus shelters and vehicles considering the county's nearly 10-year effort to beautify the commercial landscape with a billboard ban, sign controls and regulation of bus bench advertising.

Port Richey is using transportation of another sort to balance its budget. After eliminating the 10 percent surcharge on electricity and the accompanying $264,000 the tax generated, the City Council received a proposed a budget that included $120,000 in revenue from the red light camera at U.S. 19 and Ridge Road.

Lead-footed red-light runners are bringing gold to the city. If only New Port Richey had thought of this. There, the city finance director is bemoaning motorists obeying parking regulations or the city's officers failure to write tickets.

A year ago, the city budgeted $4,900 in parking ticket fines, but received only $1,140. In the current budget, the city expected a more modest sum of $2,360, but still expects to collect a little more than $1,900 when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

So, what happened? Finance Director Rick Snyder asked the police department to pick up the pace on enforcement. And, as Times staff writer Jodie Tillman reported, Snyder said he plans to try to get more animal license money out of pet owners, too.

But forget dogs and drivers and mass transit patrons for a moment. Consider the leadership emerging in the Pasco School Board race. Peter Hanzel, Kurt Conover and Joanne Hurley are seeking the seat coming open by Marge Whaley's retirement. In separate interviews, all three candidates indicated they are open to following the lead set in Pinellas County and asking voters for a community tax to supplement teacher salaries or operating costs. (Disclaimer: the column's author is married to a teacher).

A T-A-X?

"We should consider it if we can prove to our community the school district is worth the continued investment. I have confidence in voters; they'll do what's right,'' said Conover.

Hurley expressed similar sentiment and suggested the question should be posed to voters in two to three years. Hanzel's answer shows how conflicting the issue can be for a would-be public servant seeking votes.

"Basically, we don't need newer taxes in there,'' he said. "The issue would be the uh ...''

He stopped talking.

For nearly 40 seconds.

"If the community felt it was important enough to deal with those particular items then the community would have to support it with some type of financial increase.''

Would Hanzel advocate for a tax referendum for schools?

"I'm going to get killed on that one by some people within the (Republican) party, but yeah.''

It's easy to ticket scofflaws or use technology to snag red-light runners. A good number of the offenders don't vote in those particular municipalities. Trying to plug the holes left by a stagnant economy, higher homestead exemptions, tax rolls falling below expectations, declining gasoline and sales tax collections and reduced state aid requires smart, creative leadership.

Otherwise, we'll all be folding laundry.

Is it time for officials to utter the T-word? 07/26/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 6:54pm]
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