They got concerned. So they organized.
A group of sales tax foes have formed the Citizens Against the Penny for Pasco, a political action committee to fight the proposed one-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax increase going to voters March 9.
The group is headed by Ann Bunting, a Republican state committeewoman and head of the Spirit of '76 Republican Club. Five other Republicans and Jon Kueny, chairman of the local Libertarian Party, join her on the group's board of directors.
Bunting organized the committee this week to counter the promotion of the sales tax message by Pasco's Citizen Committee, a bipartisan residents' group she described as "the machine" of the County Commission and the School Board.
"I think a lot of information is being presented to the public through the County Commission's machine and the School Board's machine that doesn't tell the entire situation," Bunting said. "It only tells one perspective. We need to get the other side of the story out to the public."
If voters approve, the extra cent on the sales tax would raise about $31-million a year, with the county and the School Board each getting 45 percent. The cities would split the rest.
The money would go to build and renovate schools, widen roads, buy land for conservation and get new equipment for emergency responders, among other projects. Officials are also promising a half-mill property tax cut if voters approve the 10-year sales tax increase.
While Bunting and other critics have long questioned the need for additional tax dollars, they decided to form an antisales tax group after the County Commission put the referendum on the March 9 presidential primary ballot.
Their goal: to stir up a high voter turnout that day, especially among Republicans and independents who weren't planning to visit the polls because they don't have candidates in the presidential primary.
"We'll be working to make sure a sufficient number of people go to the polls in March so the result is a true indication of what the people of Pasco County want," said committee member Lee Henley, who believes the "silent majority" of residents opposes the tax.
"The way it's being presented right now, and because they are having (the referendum) in March, we don't feel like a sufficient number of people would be going to the polls," he added.
The higher the turnout, the better, said Allen Altman, co-chairman of Pasco's Citizen Committee, the group promoting the higher sales tax. He said several polls have shown "the overwhelming majority" of voters would support a one-cent sales tax increase for better schools and roads.
Altman said his group is not the mouthpiece for the county or the School Board. Quite the opposite: The committee members approached the school and county officials in a grass roots effort to push for more sales tax dollars, he said.
He said the Citizens Against the Penny for Pasco is just a group name for the individuals who have already criticized the sales tax proposal in meetings, news reports and letters to the editor.
"I just think it will be a very clear distinction for people to choose between Bunting's group, which opposes better schools and better roads, and the Pasco's Citizen Committee, which desires to see a better Pasco in the future," Altman said.
Bunting said the School Board and the county already have plenty of dollars to work with. She points to the numbers: The county has a $689-million budget to serve an estimated 362,000 residents, while the School Board has a $640-million budget to serve about 55,000 students.
"We keep paying for things, and they keep saying they need more," Bunting said. "It's an insatiable beast."
The other members of the Citizens Against the Penny for Pasco include: Chris Sprowls, president of the Pasco County Young Republicans; Brenda Belanger, Lee Henley, Ryan O'Reilly and Gary Willner, all members of the Republican Executive Committee; and local Libertarian leader Jon Kueny.
As a political action committee, the group can raise money and launch ad campaigns to criticize the Penny for Pasco. Bunting said the group will meet next week to start mapping a strategy.
Ray Gadd, the school district's point man on Penny for Pasco, welcomes the questions. He said the School Board is ready with answers.
"I don't think it's going to hurt our message," Gadd said. "I think our message is clear. The School Board has been up front about the projects and the various places in which we have a (need)."
"I think it's great (Bunting) started a PAC," he added. "It's the American way."
_ Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at
1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is bhallsptimes.com.