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A positive Penny

Extending the Penny for Pinellas for another decade is essential to improving the quality of life in Florida's most densely populated county. If the 1 percent sales tax expires in three years, any realistic hope of meeting Pinellas' transportation, drainage and recreational needs will die with it.

Keeping the tax will generate money to widen Ulmerton Road, extend two sections of Belcher Road and build a new bridge to the beach in Clearwater. It will provide cash for fire stations, community centers, drainage projects and libraries. If the referendum is defeated and the tax expires, how many of these projects will be completed without raising property taxes and other fees?

Not many.

In St. Petersburg, where voter turnout is expected to be heaviest because of city elections, there is more reason to support the Penny for Pinellas now than there was in 1989. Most of the county's share of the tax so far has understandably been spent in North Pinellas. That is where traffic problems were most severe and where undeveloped land needed to be bought and preserved. If the tax is extended into the next decade, the county would spend half of its money and locate more of its projects in South Pinellas. The list includes badly needed drainage improvements, a reworked intersection at Gandy Boulevard and Interstate 75, an extended Pinellas Trail and a learning center at Weedon Island.

Of course, the entire county will benefit enormously from the extended tax, just as it has from the original. The extended tax would generate $1.4-billion over 10 years that would again be divided among the county and the cities. It would help build a new library in Clearwater, improve drainage in Pinellas Park and provide St. Petersburg neighborhoods with millions in grants.

Voters who are not swayed by the importance of some specific projects should remember that killing the Penny for Pinellas would not necessarily enable them to pay lower taxes. For better or worse, many cities have lowered property tax rates or frozen them while relying on the sales tax to pay for basic needs, such as sidewalks, drainage projects and new police cars. While some projects could be canceled if the extended tax is defeated, essential work would have to continue and would likely be paid for by higher property taxes and fees.

A key fact to remember about the Penny for Pinellas: About 35 percent of the money generated by the tax is paid by tourists who use our roads and parks but do not pay property taxes.

Extending the 1 percent sales tax is one of the most painless ways for Pinellas County and its 24 municipalities to make necessary improvements to roads and drainage while providing libraries, parks and cultural centers that enrich our community. We recommend a "Yes" vote for the Penny for Pinellas.