By Kyle LoJacono
The Penny for Pasco sales tax will expire in three years, but county commissioners are already working to keep it around much longer than that.
The program was first passed in 2004 by Pasco voters and is expected to raise $437 million for school and road construction, environmental land preservation and public safety equipment.
The county is currently using revenue generated by the program for eight road projects and is in the process of designing 13 more, according to Pasco Engineering Services Program Administrator Deborah Bolduc. The Pasco School District has also opened 11 new schools — including Sunlake, Wiregrass Ranch, Anclote and Fivay high schools — since the program began. It has also paid for major renovations to Pasco middle and high schools.
“All I can say is thank God for the penny,” said Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand. “If our citizens look and see what this penny has done, they’d say it has been a bargain. We need to start planting the seed for 2014.”
The commissioners have already started that cultivation work by placing the program’s renewal into the long-term transportation plan. Its extension would help offset the revenue lost from proposed lower impact fees on new homes, but that tradeoff would still need to be approved by Pasco voters.
“I think that we’ve demonstrated that we have spent those dollars wisely,” said Commissioner Ted Schrader. He then added, the job of selling the proposal to voters will likely still be difficult given the current economic status, and also that tens of thousands of new residents have moved to the county since the program was passed in 2004.
“It’s even more important for us to continue to demonstrate to the citizens where the money’s coming from and how these improvements are being completed,” Schrader said.
In addition to demonstrating the productive use of the money generated, the commissioners will likely point out to voters the program also includes a reduction in property tax rates. Since its passage, Penny for Pasco has reduced property tax bills by $67 million.
Of the money generated, 45 percent goes to school projects, 45 percent goes to the county for road, environmental and safety projects and the last 10 percent goes to Pasco’s five cities, which include Zephyrhills, Dade City, San Antonio, New Port Richey and Port Richey.
The school district has spent $172 million during the first seven years of the program. Road projects have accounted for $27 million, which has paid for 10 completed and eight current jobs, but another $46 million are available for future work.
More money would have already been spent, but several projects were built below the original proposed cost, according to Pasco Administrator John Gallagher. He added that additional money came in from federal stimulus and the Florida Department of Transportation.
Gallagher said projects not originally slated for work from Penny for Pasco money will receive upgrades because there is so much money left over.
“I think we’re doing great with it, and I’m glad to see us taking advantage of outside money,” said Commissioner Jack Mariano.
County officials have also spent $12 million on new equipment of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and Pasco Fire Rescue. Most of that went to new vehicles, laptops and defibrillators.
An additional $10 million has been used to buy 1,300 acres of land for conservation purpose. Another $25 million remains in that fund.
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