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County officials draft new Penny for Pasco wish list

Published Apr. 25, 2012

NEW PORT RICHEY — Commissioners on Tuesday got an early shopping list for a renewed Penny for Pasco sales tax that will be on the ballot in November.

The second round of the one-cent sales tax would generate $502 million over 10 years. That would provide $226 million each for the county and the school district. The six cities would split $50 million based on 2010 populations.

One prominent change is a new category for economic development, which would receive $45 million of the county's share.

"Everybody is talking about creating jobs," said County Administrator John Gallagher. "With this amount of money, you can reach your tentacles out a lot further to try to bring different types of businesses into Pasco County."

That money would be spent on incentives to lure high-wage jobs. It could also be used for workforce training, a start-up incubator or infrastructure to lure businesses.

"When we did the Raymond James deal, we actually struggled to find the money for infrastructure," said Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein. "We had to get very creative."

Another major change is that the second round of the Penny would no longer include a property tax cut from the school district.

When voters first approved the Penny in 2004, the school district agreed to lower its property tax rate for construction projects by 50 cents for every $1,000 of taxable property. The tradeoff helped sweeten the deal for voters. A portion of the Penny proceeds went to reimburse the district for that lost revenue.

But the Legislature has since lowered the maximum for school districts' capital tax rates. The district decided it cannot cut its rate even further by continuing to offer another cut tied to the Penny.

Chris Williams, the district's planning director, said such a move could jeopardize the district's bond rating because officials had earlier issued construction bonds that were pegged to a certain tax rate. Williams said the estimated $226 million for the school district is not far from the $253 million it will receive from the first round of the Penny.

The rest of the county's share includes $90 million for transportation projects and $45 million each for public safety equipment and environmental lands.

That last category concerned Commissioner Henry Wilson. "I don't think environmental lands is on the same level as public safety and economic development," he said.

But Commissioner Ted Schrader said the county must step in to replace Florida Forever money that has dried up. "If we cut that down much more you may as well take it out," he said.

Commissioners have scheduled a workshop with School Board members June 12 in Land O'Lakes to discuss proposed projects. They will finalize the county's new list of projects later that month before forwarding ballot language to the Supervisor of Elections by Aug. 1. The vote would be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.