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Pasco commissioners set project list for sales tax renewal

Voters will consider renewing Penny for Pasco on the November ballot.
The project list for the renewal of the Penny for Pasco sales tax includes numerous projects to expand and invest in county amenities such as walking and bicycle trails similar to this one in the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park.
The project list for the renewal of the Penny for Pasco sales tax includes numerous projects to expand and invest in county amenities such as walking and bicycle trails similar to this one in the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jul. 21|Updated Jul. 24

DADE CITY — Promises Made. Promises Kept. That’s what the website touting the need for another renewal of Pasco’s Penny for Pasco sales tax announces.

Accounting for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent over the last 18 years to build or renovate Pasco County’s schools, roads and parks and promote economic development is meant to help sell voters on approving a 15-year renewal of the tax on the November ballot.

To further that comfort level, Pasco County commissioners recently approved a tentative project list of new community investments. That list isn’t required by the rules of setting a sales tax referendum, said Pasco Government Affairs Officer Ralph Lair, but it does provide voters of greater level of detail on what the dollars could do.

At a recent meeting, Jennifer Seney, a supporter of Penny for Pasco since its inception who serves on the political action committee that educates and advocates for its continuation, asked commissioners to consider establishing a citizens committee to like the one used by the school district to oversee school spending of the penny. There are many who will be voting in November who are too new to know about the past penny accomplishments, she said.

Last week Pasco Commission chairperson Kathryn Starkey took issue with that suggestion, saying the county has four different citizen committees looking at county spending on sensitive lands, trails, transportation projects and economic development.

“We do have county oversight committees,” Starkey said.

Penny for Pasco money has helped to change the entire look of Pasco High. The $17.3 million project renovated the Dade City school inside and out, and included new classroom buildings.
Penny for Pasco money has helped to change the entire look of Pasco High. The $17.3 million project renovated the Dade City school inside and out, and included new classroom buildings.

If approved, the penny, which would keep Pasco’s sales tax at seven cents, will be divvied up in the same manner it is now, with 45% going to county government, 45% to the school district and 10% to Pasco’s cities.

Pasco education officials have talked about potential uses of the money, including schools in fast-growing areas. That could 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.

The county’s list is also full of what likely will be popular projects. One priority commissioners have discussed is installing sidewalks near schools since the school district ended bus service for students who live within a 2-mile radius of their school.

On the tentative project list are sidewalks to assist students who walk to Gulf Trace Elementary, Wesley Chapel Elementary, Thomas Weightman Middle, Wesley Chapel High, Denham Oaks Elementary, Pine View Elementary and Wendell Krinn Technical High School.

With transportation needs receiving 40% of the county’s portion of the revenue, the list of projects is varied — from mass transit facility renovations and bridge rehabilitation to safety and intersection work and right-of-way purchases for future road priorities.

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Rizzatta Real Estate breaks ground on two new speculative office buildings near the Suncoast Parkway. The project is in conjunction with Pasco County's Penny for Pasco economic development.
Rizzatta Real Estate breaks ground on two new speculative office buildings near the Suncoast Parkway. The project is in conjunction with Pasco County's Penny for Pasco economic development. [ Pasco Economic Development Council ]

Another 20% of the money goes to parks, recreation and environmentally-sensitive lands. Commissioners were told that the county has protected 2,400 acres of sensitive land but needs to acquire 4,700 more. The previous sales tax has added as much as 1,600 acres, but the new tax could add another 3,700.

Other projects in that category include providing public access or security to recreational areas including picnic areas, hiking trails, campgrounds and observation towers, as well as work at parks off Baillies Bluff Road and in the Angeline development.

The 20% dedicated to economic development would be distributed for workforce training , incentives for new industries and infrastructure. The 20% for public safety would be divided among the fire and sheriffs departments for vehicles, facility renovations and equipment.

Pasco voters passed the first Penny for Pasco on March 9, 2004, for 10 years and collected more than $320 million, according to the Penny for Pasco website. In 2012, nearly 70% of voters agreed to renew the tax for another 10 years. From January 2015 through the end of the current tax in December 2024, proceeds are expected to top $700 million.

The renewal could bring Pasco another $1.9 billion over the 15-year lifespan of the tax, officials estimate.

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