A citizen political action committee's pitch for a renewed Penny for Pasco sales tax will tout property tax benefits, economic development, modernized classrooms, enhanced public safety and improved roads. But, here's the short version, "We did what we said we would do.''
Of all the reasons, and there are many, voters should renew the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax in November, the strongest justification is the astute financial stewardship exercised by elected officials and staff in spending the proceeds from the current penny tax voters approved in 2004. The money has been well managed and used to build schools, make roads safer, preserve environmentally sensitive land and buy public safety equipment. Transparency is key. A citizens oversight committee reviews school spending. The Pasco County government web site provides a link to its update on the sales tax. Any deviation from the original plan – like allowing the sheriff to replace motorcycles instead of just patrol cars – receives a public debate and county commission vote.
There has been no embarrassing audits suggesting imprecise spending, exaggerated claims or projects quietly being cancelled as was the case after the first decade of a similar sales tax in Pinellas County. On the contrary, Pasco County government was able to add 20 new projects to its Penny for Pasco transportation list because of the fiscal prudence aided by lower-than-expected cost projections and unanticipated federal dollars.
Voters will receive plenty of political messages over the next five months of this busy, presidential election year. As they consider the referendum to continue the sales tax, the one piece of information that should stick out is the benefit of the current tax. Penny for Pasco helped curb school crowding; brought safety improvements to the deadly U.S. 19; eased traffic congestion in Wesley Chapel; made intersections safer; gave public control to nearly 1,500 acres of green space (with thousands more acres already under negotiation); and bought laptop computers and police vehicles for the Sheriff's Office and portable defibrillators in public buildings. On two occasions, officials have credited the defibrillators with helping to save the lives of stricken residents.
It's a mouthful for a 75-word ballot. Context, provided Wednesday to the Pasco School Board and County Commission by citizens committee co-chair Hutch Brock, is much simpler.
Promises made. Promises kept.