By Jeff Odom
More than $502 million dollars are at stake, and it will all be decided based on the outcome of a penny.
The proposed penny sales tax extension could add more than $502 million in increased county revenue and numerous employment opportunities, according to Pasco’s Chief Assistant Administrator Michele Baker.
Baker, who discussed the details during a Pasco Alliance of Community Association meeting June 14, said if voters approve the Penny for Pasco sales tax extension in November, nearly $100 million more will go toward funding for roads, schools, environmental conservation and infrastructure starting in 2015.
“We’re currently levying a penny tax to pay for transportation improvements, environmental land acquisition and public safety,” Baker said. “Going forward, if the voters choose to renew that penny and continue it, we would still be spending funds with those areas, but we would be adding to that an allocation for jobs and economic development.”
Under the current tax, which was passed by voters in 2004, 10 percent of the funding goes to the county’s cities, with the most money going to the most populated municipalities. The school district received 45 percent; the remaining 45 is allocated by the county commissioners for transportation, public safety and environmental projects.
The new allocation will keep the same percentage for the cities and school district, but the 45 percent the commissioners get will be steered in different directions. Road projects and other transportation needs will get 40 percent, while the remaining 60 percent will be evenly split to fund economic development/job creation, environmental land purchases and improving public safety.
Baker touted the tax extension as a way for public services to receive replacements to outdated or broken equipment while bringing businesses to the county.
“(Economic development is) an important part of the penny,” Baker said. “When we do our annual citizen engagement meetings, we asked how would you want us to spend the penny and jobs and economic development was No. 1. … I do think job creation is on the forefront of everybody’s mind.”
If citizens vote not to renew, the current penny tax will expire in December 2014.
Finding the money to support these projects will need to come from another source, Baker said. She added numerous road projects would be stalled because of an end to the funding.
“Right now for transportation projects we don’t use property tax dollars,” Baker said. “So those planned transportation projects and trails wouldn’t happen until some other revenue source was found. In terms of the public safety projects, those services still have to be delivered. So if we’re not paying for equipment replacements with the penny, we will have to pay for them with property taxes.”
Baker believes there is plenty of support for the extension heading into the November election cycle and said the transparency that the county Commission has with its constituents is always key for communicating where tax dollars are going.
“I think this ensures voters are educated before heading to the polls,” Baker said. “That is the job of the government. To be honest and efficient with the dollars that are entrusted to us by the citizens. … There is really no better way to do it.”