1. Archive

Cash registers ring in new year, tax

You probably didn't think about it last night as the New Year's fireworks exploded overhead or as you watched the light drop in Times Square.

But right as you launched into that first note of Auld Lang Syne, Hernando County's sales taxes increased by a half-cent on the dollar.

Happy New Year.

Voters approved the new sales tax in November as a way to pay for a fourth public high school in Hernando County. The tax took effect just after midnight.

For Hernando County residents, the new tax will mean a $30 purchase will cost an extra 15 cents; a $5 item will cost another 3 cents.

Because the new tax means little more than pocket change, several residents headed into the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Cortez Boulevard earlier this week seemed to be giving it little thought.

Tim and Sheryl Grey of Spring Hill said the higher sales tax will not drive them to bankruptcy. And, with three kids in the Hernando public schools, they think the tax is for a good cause.

"We don't have a problem with it," Mrs. Grey said. "Whatever it takes to improve the school system."

Even many older residents, including those who say there's too much government waste, aren't bent out of shape over the tax. "If it goes to the schools, it's a good idea," said Earl Mitchell, 75, of Spring Hill.

Mitchell said Florida schools need all the help they can get. But he still could not resist taking a jab at the school officials who will spend the money.

"You know when those politicians get ahold of it you never know where it's going to go," Mitchell said.

In the Nov. 3 election, 53.5 percent of the voters in Hernando County supported the half-cent sales tax.

Given that slim margin of victory, a few people are not all that keen about the new tax.

"We don't need that," said Paulene Lemihaute, a 66-year-old retiree from Connecticut. "I don't think it's good."

Having put her five children through school long ago, Lemihaute said she thinks she has paid her share of school taxes.

Fear that many older residents would share those sentiments caused school officials to scurry for votes all summer. And, in the end, several of the county's retirement communities gave the school its strongest support.

The new tax, with its 5-year lifespan, will push the sales-tax rate in Hernando County from 6 percent to 6.5 percent.

Over those five years, that extra pocket change _ invested wisely _ is expected to add up to $21.1-million for the school.

Combining that with another $12.7-million of state lottery money, the district intends to build a high school worth $33.8-million.

The school is supposed to ease the pressure of growing enrollment and provide a school that will emphasize vocational and technical training.

Expected to open by 2003, the new school will be built on California Street, just north of the Hernando County Airport.

With the approach of the New Year, merchants throughout the county have been getting ready for the new tax.

Joe Weeks, the owner of Weeks Hardware Co. in Brooksville, one of the oldest businesses in Hernando County, contemplated hiring someone to reprogram his cash register to charge the extra half-cent tax.

But the last time Weeks had to do that, it cost him nearly $100. So he made a trade with a computer programer who was about to buy some hardware from him. For $15, the wholesale price of his friend's purchase, Weeks got his cash register realigned.

The change was much more high-tech at Publix in Seven Hills. Store manager Darin Dampier said programers in the company's Lakeland office changed his registers electronically.

"We have to do absolutely nothing," Dampier said.

Some car dealerships wondered if potential customers would hurry to make their purchases in 1998 to avoid the extra taxes.

But Jim Cummings, the general sales manager at Plaza Chrysler Plymouth Dodge, said he had not heard anyone _ customers or salespeople _ mention a year-end avoid-the-tax rush.

That's probably because even on costly items, the half-cent sales tax amounts to little. In fact, the tax applies only to the first $5,000 of any purchase.

So whether a $15,000 car or a $30,000 van, the tax will be just $25.

"Twenty-five dollars isn't going to make or break a $30,000 automobile," Cummings said.

Gloria and Bob Kodritch of Spring Hill bought a van Wednesday. They were unaware they had saved an extra $25 by getting their purchase out of the way before Jan. 1.

"On large purchases, after a certain amount, it doesn't matter," Kodritch said.