Pasco OKs school tax, picks school board members and county commissioners

Commission incumbent Christina Fitzpatrick falls to Gary Bradford and Seth Weightman is the top pick in District 2.
Jeff Larsen of Tarpon Springs backs a special property tax to support better pay for teachers, bus drivers, food service workers and other school district employees. With most ballots tallied, the referendum passed, receiving about 59% of the vote.
Jeff Larsen of Tarpon Springs backs a special property tax to support better pay for teachers, bus drivers, food service workers and other school district employees. With most ballots tallied, the referendum passed, receiving about 59% of the vote. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Published Aug. 24, 2022|Updated Aug. 24, 2022

In a vote that will have a long-lasting impact on Pasco County public schools, voters approved increasing their property taxes to boost salaries for district employees.

With most ballots tallied, the referendum received about 59% of the vote.

Supporters argued the tax of up to $1 per $1,000 of taxable value is necessary to make Pasco more competitive with neighboring districts that pay better. Referendum opponents mounted a social media campaign against the request, arguing the district would have plenty of cash for raises if it cut spending in other areas.

“I am pleased the community understands the necessity for this and has responded,” United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace said.

Pasco voters also decided two races for county commission and three for School Board.

In the District 2 Pasco County Commission race, Seth Weightman easily bested fellow Republicans Christie Zimmer and Troy Stevenson. Weightman will appear on the November ballot, along with a space for write-in candidate Louis Rodriguez, with the winner to replace Commissioner Mike Moore, who chose not to seek reelection.

Seth Weightman
Seth Weightman [ Seth Weightman ]

Weightman, 35, is municipal sales manager for Republic Services and a member of the Southwest Florida Water Management District governing board. Endorsed by several prominent Republican leaders, including Senate President Wilton Simpson and State Sen. Danny Burgess, Weightman campaigned for strengthening the local economy, providing jobs and addressing infrastructure needs.

Zimmer, 47, a Realtor who advocated for change on the commission, came in second in votes, trailed by Stevenson, 57, who owns and operates an LED sign advertising truck fleet, focused on supporting sustainable growth and first responders.

In the District 4 commission race, incumbent Christina Fitzpatrick fell to Gary Bradford, whom she defeated in 2020. Bradford will appear on the November ballot with a space for a write-in vote for Cory Patterson, a friend of Bradford.

A retired Tampa police officer and police union official, Bradford, 63, ran on what he called strong conservative values, a focus on public safety and infrastructure. “I am extremely excited that the citizens of Pasco County put their faith in me to tackle the challenges facing the county,” Bradford said.

Gary Bradford
Gary Bradford [ Gary Bradford ]

Fitzpatrick, 38, has focused on helping Pasco’s most vulnerable children, founding Guardian Angels Inc. and Miracles Schools for children with special needs, where she is chief administrator. Shannon J. Wittwer, 47, who joined the District 4 race after an unsuccessful fight to stop an apartment complex near her neighborhood, came in third.

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In the race for School Board District 5 in northwest Pasco, incumbent Megan Harding, 32, a former teacher, handily dispatched a challenge from political novice Charles Touseull, 66, a retired chiropractor. Touseull, who said he would make decisions based on Christian teachings, campaigned to the right of Harding, who has also run as a conservative voice.

“I am blown away by the amount of support,” said Harding, who received about 72% of the vote. “I am so grateful to be given the opportunity to fight for what’s right for our students and parents and teachers.”

In District 3, representing south central Pasco, School Board member Cynthia Armstrong, 67, comfortably won her bid for a fourth term. Challenger Matt Geiger, 50, an administrator at Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School, painted Armstrong, a real estate agent, as part of an old guard that needs to be replaced.

“I am excited about all the opportunities we’re going to be offering our students over the next four years,” Armstrong said, adding she is “thrilled” to be a part of it.

The District 1 School Board race to replace retiring Allen Altman did not have a clear winner among three hopefuls for the post. The top two vote-getters, health care executive Alvaro “Al” Hernandez and teacher James Washington, will advance to the November general election.

Third-place finisher Steve Meisman, 50, accused opponents Hernandez, 50, and Washington, 49, of not living in the district in time to be eligible for the ballot. He sued in county court, where the case is pending. Meisman had positioned himself as the candidate who best represents the conservative values of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who endorsed Hernandez.

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