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Debate leaves a few voters unsure about tax

Pat and Jay Thomason were in the minority.

When the retired homeowners raised their hands at the Penny for Pasco debate at Wesley Chapel High School on Wednesday night, they signaled that they were two of only a handful of people who were not already embroiled in either campaign for or against the proposed 1-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax increase.

Yet, the Thomasons were exactly why the majority was there.

"I was hoping tonight we would get our questions answered," Pat Thomason said.

Unfortunately for the pro-side, neither Thomason thought that happened.

The main sticking point: they weren't satisfied that the half-cent property tax rollback promised will actually happen if voters approve the higher sales tax.

"I don't see any guarantee yet," Jay Thomason said, despite the assurances of pro-tax leaders.

The Tampa Tribune-sponsored event was the second time representatives from both sides gathered under one roof to formally address questions from audience members about their positions.

The pro-side was represented by Pasco County schools superintendent John Long, County Administrator John Gallagher, Dade City Manager Harold Sample and Pasco's Citizen Committee co-chairman Allen Altman.

The con-side came down to one _ Ann Bunting, Republican activist and founder of the Citizens Against the Penny for Pasco.

"She got PowerPointed," Jay Thomason chuckled, referring to the computer-assisted presentations the pro-tax leaders made.

The March 9 tax election will mark the second time in nine years school officials have asked voters to raise sales taxes to benefit school construction. With 57,000 students, Pasco County is the fifth-fastest growing district in the state.

Unlike in 1995, however, county government and the school district will each get 45 percent of the estimated $437-million-a-year in tax receipts, with the municipalities sharing the rest.

A third forum is planned at Centennial Elementary in Dade City on Feb. 2.