Campaign gears up as voting begins on half-cent sales tax for Hernando schools

Published Aug. 6, 2015

BROOKSVILLE — Red T-shirts advertising the Sept. 8 school sales tax referendum have been a common fashion accessory at recent Hernando County School Board meetings.

Billboards are going up. Smaller signs supporting restoration of the half-cent tax, which expired at the end of 2014, are showing up on the sides of highways and in residents' yards.

"We are moving forward on the campaign with rapid speed," Jimmy Lodato, co-chairman of the Save Our Schools Hernando political action committee, told the School Board last week.

And, this week, some voters are beginning to see an even more definitive sign that the election is fast approaching — mail-in ballots from the county Supervisor of Elections Office.

The board was not willing to pay to open some polls for early voting, which has become increasingly popular in regularly scheduled elections. But the more than 22,000 voters who have requested mail-in ballots will receive them, and maybe already have. Most of them were to be sent out earlier this week, Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson said.

That will give voters several weeks to send in their ballots in advance of the Sept. 8 election.

Voters who plan to vote on that day can do so at their normal precincts. It is also not too late to sign up for a mail-in ballot; the deadline is Sept. 2.

The deadline to register to vote, on the other hand, is fast approaching. Residents must do so before the end of the business day on Monday.

Links for both registration and ordering mail-in ballots are on the supervisor's website — — as well as on the Hernando County School District's site,

The district has produced brochures explaining how the $8.5 million that the tax is expected to raise annually would be spent. It must go to capital improvements, and almost all of it is due to be spent on replacing aging flooring, roofs and air-conditioning units at schools throughout the district.

District officials had hoped to continue the previous half-cent tax as part of the Penny for Projects referendum, a joint ballot initiative with the county that failed in the November election. After voters rejected that referendum, the school district decided to put its own half-cent tax back before voters in a special election.

If the Sept. 8 referendum does not pass, district officials have said, they will be required to pull money from the general fund to pay for these items.

The district also is enlisting the support of teachers and parents to spread the word about how the tax would be used.

Thus far, there has been little organized opposition to the tax. But Lodato said some initial polls have shown only a narrow majority of residents support it.

"If we do not win this half-cent, I worry about what will happen here," he said. "I worry about the cuts that will come."

Contact Dan DeWitt at; follow @ddewitttimes.