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Voters show strong support for for school tax measures in Pinellas, Hernando

Eighty percent of Pinellas voters and 62 percent of Hernando voters said yes to special property taxes that will help boost teacher pay.

Voters in Pinellas and Hernando counties Tuesday showed strong support for property tax measures that will allow their school districts to boost teacher pay, according to unofficial results reported at 8:10 p.m.

About 62 percent of voters said yes to the referendum in Hernando, with all 32 precincts reporting. Eighty percent of voters favored a similar measure in Pinellas, the largest margin since the tax first passed in 2004.

Hernando school superintendent John Stratton said he was “pleasantly, pleasantly pleased” by the results. He thanked the county’s residents for agreeing to support the school system, especially in the midst of such a challenging year.

“It’s an exciting day," Stratton said. “I’m excited about what this says about our community and how it believes in our public school system."

Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego shared a similar sentiment, calling the margin of votes “thrilling.” He promised that the school district will not take the support for granted.

Leading up to Election Day, school district officials expressed concern that voters might reject the measures, given the coronavirus pandemic and its financial impact on local residents.

Voters in both counties have historically supported tax measures supporting schools. Pinellas first won approval in 2004 for a special property tax of 50 cents on every $1,000 of taxable value, and it has been renewed every four years since.

The money — about $50 million annually — goes mostly toward teacher raises, and the rest supports arts education, reading programs and classroom technology. It costs the average single-family homeowner with a homestead exemption about $7.15 per month.

As in past years, 80 percent of the funds will be spent on teacher salaries. Pinellas planners have estimated that, with property values increasing, the district would be able to supplement each teacher’s pay by $5,231 in the coming school year — $507 more than last year.

This is Hernando’s first local-option property tax increase. It has a rate of $1 on every $1,000 of taxable value and will raise about $11 million a year.

The school district most recently won voter approval in 2015 for a sales tax promoted with a campaign of “promises made, promises kept." The money fuels school construction and maintenance projects. An oversight committee has reported more than 400 projects completed since 2016, with about 60 percent focused on heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

Officials have said the property tax funds are needed for different things. Half will go toward staff pay, a quarter toward school safety improvements and mental health services, and the rest toward technology and career education programs.

Hernando will begin collecting revenue in March 2021 and have an independent task force to hold the district accountable for the spending.

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