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Elected leaders begin talking about Penny for Pasco renewal

Officials are hoping voters renew the penny sales tax for another 15 years
Sketches of the forthcoming H. Lee Moffitt Life Sciences Park in Pasco County, which is getting funding from the Penny for Pasco sales tax. The 16-million-square-foot project is expected to create an estimated 14,500 jobs.
Sketches of the forthcoming H. Lee Moffitt Life Sciences Park in Pasco County, which is getting funding from the Penny for Pasco sales tax. The 16-million-square-foot project is expected to create an estimated 14,500 jobs. [ H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute ]
Published Mar. 31|Updated Apr. 4

NEW PORT RICHEY — New and renovated schools, sheriff and fire rescue public safety investments, more preserved land and new businesses to add to the county’s economic base. They are benefits Pasco County’s leaders cite from the existing Penny for Pasco sales tax.

This week the Pasco County Commission and the Pasco County School Board met to discuss plans to pitch another 15 years of the penny sales tax to the voters later this year. It would start in 2024.

Officials estimate that the penny could bring Pasco County $1.9 billion more between 2025 and 2039, money that is projected to be split, with 45 percent going to the school district, 45 percent to the county and 10 percent to Pasco cities.

Voters first approved the Penny for Pasco in 2004. Ten years later, they approved it again.

Ray Gadd, deputy school superintendent, said the school district receives construction and renovation money from three sources: the schools capital improvement tax, impact fees assessed on new buildings and the sales tax. He said making sure all three are available in the future is critical.

In the first sales tax, the school district focused on building schools to address overcrowding. Some campuses had dozens of portable classrooms. One had nothing but a basketball court as a playground, Gadd said.

The second round of the sales tax allowed more school renovations, districtwide investments such as replacing air conditioners and technology purchases.

As the district eyes needs for the next 15 years, building schools in locations around fast-growing Pasco County is again on the list. Early priorities include an elementary school in the Bexley area; kindergarten through eighth grade schools in Central Pasco and along the State Road 54 corridor; and a school complex in the Villages of Pasadena Hills.

County administrator Dan Biles said proceeds from a sales tax extension would help with transportation, buying environmentally sensitive lands and economic development projects such as “the small project at Ridge and the Suncoast.” He was referencing the massive 16-million-square-foot Moffitt Cancer Center project planned there, which is expected to create an estimated 14,500 jobs.

Joanna Cheshire, Pasco County chief of staff, describes that project as one of several economic development successes. She also spoke about the Mettler Toledo manufacturing site, which got $7.7 million from the last sales tax but she said is producing a $79 million economic impact, and the Asturia project, which received $7 million from sales tax and Cheshire said has produced a $32 million impact.

Transportation projects will be high on the list of priorities the county would continue to address with additional sales tax funding, county officials said. They are also talking about funding parks.

In the coming months, county officials will initiate the formal process to get the sales tax referendum on the 2024 ballot.

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Officials are cautiously optimistic that voters will again support the tax.

School Board chairperson Cynthia Armstrong thanked those who served on the oversight committee, which watches how the funds have been spent.

“That’s our eyes on the ground to guarantee that we are protecting the taxpayers’ interests,” Armstrong said, “that we are doing exactly what they voted on and what they were expecting us to do.”

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