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Voters to be asked for thoughts on penny tax

The question is set. The answer will rest with voters March 9.

After a month of wrangling over the wording of the Penny for Pasco ballot question, the County Commission approved wording Tuesday that promises a half-mill property tax cut if voters approve the 1-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax hike.

Commissioners agreed to the wording with little discussion Tuesday _ a departure from the lengthy debates at the past two meetings, where commissioners wondered how to guarantee a property tax cut.

"The third time's going to be the charm," Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said at the meeting at the West Pasco Government Center.

With the wording in place now, she added, "We'll let the debates begin."

If voters approve, the higher sales tax would raise about $31-million the first year, with the county and the School Board each getting 45 percent. The cities would share the rest.

To sweeten the pot, the School Board would offer a half-mill property tax cut for the 10-year life of the sales tax. A half-mill is 50 cents for every $1,000 of taxable property.

The School Board would be reimbursed for the lost property tax revenue with Penny for Pasco dollars. The remaining sales tax money would be divided among the county, school district and cities.

Originally the county and School Board each planned to provide a quarter-mill property tax cut, but then a couple of commissioners balked at the idea of freezing the county's millage rate for the next decade. The new proposal puts the entire half-mill property tax cut on the shoulders of the School Board, which agreed to it.

The extra penny would raise about $437-million over the 10-year life of the tax, with about $122-million paying for the property tax cut from the School Board.

County Attorney Robert Sumner said the cities have given their blessing to the plan, even though the property tax cut means about $12-million less for them to share over the 10-year life of the tax.

On Thursday, Penny for Pasco will be the topic of a forum at the west campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College from 7 to 9 p.m.

Forum speakers will include Ray Gadd, supervisor of psychological services for Pasco County schools, the school district's point man on the tax issue.

The event will be held at PHCC's Performing Arts Center, 10230 Ridge Road, New Port Richey.

_ Bridget Hall Grumet covers Pasco County government. She 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.

Penny for Pasco ballot question

"Shall there be levied for 10 years a one-cent sales surtax to reduce school property taxes by a half-mill and then distribute as follows: 45 percent to Pasco School District to renovate and expand school facilities, improve education, and build schools to reduce overcrowding; 45 percent to Pasco County for transportation improvements and to address traffic congestion and safety needs, acquiring environmentally sensitive lands, improving public safety and infrastructure; 10 percent to Pasco's cities for local infrastructure?"

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