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Beer taps to flow sooner on Sunday

The folks who always wanted a beer after that Sunday morning golf game might find themselves toasting the County Commission.

The low-income seniors who wanted a second homestead exemption probably won't.

Pasco commissioners on Tuesday evening approved an ordinance allowing Sunday alcohol sales at country clubs, restaurants, bars and liquor stores to start at 11 a.m. instead of 1 p.m.

But they declined to pursue a second homestead exemption for low-income retirees as part of the Penny for Pasco sales tax initiative.

The ordinance allowing earlier alcohol sales puts unincorporated Pasco County on par with the revised blue laws in Port Richey, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

It won't go into effect for 10 days, so it won't affect Super Bowl Sunday. But it could mean a little extra business starting Feb. 8 for some restaurants, bars and golf clubs.

"I'm sure it would greatly increase our business," Dina Ervin, manager of Hopper's Grill & Brewery in Trinity, told the Pasco Times. "We open at 11 (on Sundays), so that would be great."

Commissioners revisited the blue laws at the urging of the Seven Springs Golf and Country Club, which loses golfers on Sundays to surrounding areas with earlier alcohol sales.

The county's rule allowing alcohol sales on Monday through Saturday to start at 7 a.m. remains the same.

SELLING THE PENNY FOR PASCO: Commissioners declined Tuesday to pursue a second homestead exemption for low-income seniors as part of the Penny for Pasco sales tax proposal.

The proposed 1-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax hike, which goes to voters March 9, already includes the promise of a half-mill property tax cut from the School Board. To answer sales tax criticisms from cash-strapped seniors, Commission Chairman Peter Altman had suggested an additional homestead exemption for low-income retirees.

But Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said homeowners already enjoy a couple of property tax breaks, including the Save Our Homes initiative that limits the increase in taxable value on a home to 3 percent per year.

Commissioner Ted Schrader said the county should not change the Penny for Pasco initiative without talking to the citizens group that is pushing the sales tax hike for new schools, repaired roads and other projects.

"To try to bring this up at this time to try to gain support for the Penny for Pasco," Schrader said, "is ill-advised."

By a 4-1 vote, however, commissioners did agree to spend up to $35,000 publicizing the sales tax proposal.

The county and the School Board will split the cost of a $25,000 direct mailing to all voting households, which would explain how the sales tax revenue would be spent.

Another $5,000 will go toward creating a 20- or 25-minute informational video about the sales tax, which would be aired on the county's cable access channel.

The county also might run newspaper ads highlighting the Penny for Pasco projects.

"Nowhere on there would it say vote for this," Schrader said. "It is an informational piece and an informational piece only."

Commissioner Pat Mulieri voted against the publicity campaign, after Hildebrand mistakenly called the ads "political."

"I know that was a slip," Mulieri told Hildebrand, "but that's exactly what I feel this one is."

Commissioners plan to hold a workshop Feb. 17, from 10 a.m. to noon, to show the video and take written questions from residents about the proposed sales tax.

The workshop will be held at the West Pasco Government Center in 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