By B.C. Manion
When Pasco voters cast their ballots early or go to the polls Nov. 6, they’ll consider a referendum that could have big consequences on daily life in the county.
They’ll decide if they want to tax themselves — and anyone else who spends money in Pasco — to pay for projects or equipment to improve roads, schools and public safety, to purchase environmentally sensitive lands and to promote economic growth through tax incentives, work force training and programs to support both businesses.
In short, they’ll be deciding the fate of Penny for Pasco, a sales tax that is proposed for 10 years and is projected to generate more than $502 million.
Whether they want to vote for or against the tax, voters should know where to look for it. It’s the last item on a crowded two-page ballot.
If approved, the tax would take effect Jan. 1, 2015 and run through Dec. 31, 2024. The tax revenues would be divvied between Pasco County, the Pasco School Board and the county’s cities.
The county would receive 45 percent, the schools get 45 and the cities would split 10.
Voters initially approved the Penny for Pasco tax in 2004, which is set to expire at the end of 2014.
Proceeds from the initial Penny for Pasco have paid for a wide range of public safety improvements, including:
—Purchases of 643 Pasco Sheriff’s office vehicles and 446 laptops, 102 defibrillators kept in public spaces and several ambulances.
—Twenty-two completed transportation projects, four projects under construction and 13 undergoing right-of-way acquisition or design.
—Purchases of nearly 1,500 conservation acres with another nearly 2,600 acres pending.
—Construction of new schools including, Double Branch Elementary and Oakstead Elementary and the renovation of older schools like Cox Elementary, Stewart Middle, Pasco Middle and Pasco High.
—School improvement projects including new wings on existing buildings, roof replacements, cafeteria and room renovations, lighting retrofits and heating, ventilation and air conditioning replacements.
Unlike the last go-round, a portion of the new Penny for Pasco proceeds will be directed toward job creation.
The county has pledged to spend 20 percent of whatever revenue it receives on improving the local economy.
Part of the money would go to enticing businesses to locate in Pasco. Other funding would help existing companies grow and others to get started.
The county also would spend money to strengthen the local work force through training and development programs.
On the public safety front, one of the big-ticket items would be the replacement of Fire Station No. 13 in Wesley Chapel. Other proposed improvements include the purchase of additional laptops and vehicles for the sheriff’s office and upgrades to the public safety radio system and to the fire rescue training center.
The school board plans to use 77 percent of the tax money it would receive for campus renovations and remodels.
Schools slated for renovations include Cox, Pasco, Quail Hollow, Shady Hills and Woodland elementary schools and Land O’ Lakes and Zephyrhills high schools.
Weightman Middle is expected to receive parking and traffic safety improvements, and Pine View Middle is expected to benefit from covered walkways.
The district also has earmarked roughly 16 percent for technology upgrades at 41 school sites.
The sales tax applies to items purchased in Pasco, except for food and medicine. It is capped at $5,000 per a single purchase.