Voters are scheduled to decide the fate of a referendum for school pay raises on the Aug. 23 primary ballot.
The Pasco County Commission approved the Pasco County School Board’s request to place the ballot question on the primary ballot, as part of the county board’s consent agenda. Items on that agenda are approved in a single motion, without discussion.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, before the board’s vote, speakers urged the board to place the ballot issue on the general election ballot in November.
Erin Pike, representing Pasco Watch, urged the board to abide by a new state law, which takes effect on Oct. 1 and requires such referendum questions to be placed on the general election ballot.
“This will give you a true voice of the community,” Pike said.
“It’s well-known that a third of the voters show up for primaries, compared to general elections. There’s plenty of data to show that.
“All voices should be heard, as much as possible, to make sure the will of the people is heard and that’s your responsibility to do so. Vote no, on knowingly and willingly allowing the majority to not be heard.
“If you vote yes for this, you’ll be telling your constituents that you care more about what the school board wants, than making you sure you hear from the overall, collective voices, of Pasco County,” Pike said.
Another speaker, Jim Stanley, of Odessa, raised similar concerns.
“This legislation (H.B. 777) passed by nearly unanimous votes, in both houses of the Legislature and signed by Gov. DeSantis. Think about that. Nearly unanimous vote in the legislature is rare. You can hardly get both parties to agree today is Tuesday.
“But they came together and recognized the importance of having all voters weigh in on proposals to increase property taxes.
“The Legislature passed this bill because they know that general elections have three to five times the turnouts of primary votes and a tax which affects everyone, should be voted on by everyone,” Stanley said.
Other speakers raised similar concerns.
One speaker, from Dade City, asked: “Is there an ulterior motive behind it? Is there an attempt to manipulate the system? I pray not.
“My question became, why would we want to present any referendum, much less a tax referendum, on a ballot, when only a small fraction of the electorate will vote?” the speaker continued.
Another speaker, from New Port Richey, told the board: “It doesn’t seem right to me, that we put this on a primary ballot, where there are very few voters engaged, in voting in the election.
“It’s just not fair. It should go before the entire electorate,” she said.
Later on in the meeting, Pasco County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder noted that the board had left the issue on its consent agenda, but really didn’t have the option to change the date.
The board’s action to place the school board’s requested ballot initiative was “ministerial” in nature, Steinsnyder said.
“It’s not discretionary. You didn’t have a choice. It had to go on the ballot,” he said.
He also noted that the change in state law takes effect on Oct. 1.
“It is not in effect now, so you can’t rely on legislation that was passed this session. You had no choice but to honor the school board’s wishes and put it on the primary election,” Steinsnyder said.
At an April 5 school board workshop on the topic, it was estimated that a 1 mil increase would yield an average instructional boost of $4,000; for non-instructional, $1,700.
District calculations show that Pasco’s median home cost of $325,000, and assuming a $25,000 homestead exemption, a property owner would pay $300 more per year, if the increase is 1 mil.
Specifically, the ballot question asks for a yes or no vote on whether to levy an additional tax, not to exceed 1 mil, beginning July 1, 2023 and ending no later than June 30, 2027.
The proceeds, according to the ballot question, will be used “for essential operating expenses to maintain salaries competitive with the market, attract and retain high-quality teachers, bus drivers and other non-administrative school support employees.”
Published June 15, 2022
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