The Pasco County School Board and the Pasco County Commission recently held a joint session to discuss asking voters to extend the Penny for Pasco, a local government infrastructure surtax, for 15 years.
If approved by voters, the extension is expected to yield about $1.9 billion in revenues, which would be split between the school district, the county and the county’s municipalities.
The school district and county each would receive 45% and the municipalities would share the remaining 10%.
The special 1-cent sales tax initially was adopted in March 2004, and was in effect from Jan. 1, 2005 through Dec. 31, 2014. Voters extended it for 10 years, with that renewal going from Jan. 1, 2015 through Dec. 31, 2024.
The proposed renewal would be from Jan. 1, 2025 to Dec. 31, 2039.
Ray Gadd, deputy superintendent for Pasco County Schools, recalled when the tax was initially proposed.
“We had schools that were 200% capacity.
“Sand Pine Elementary had more kids in portables than they had in the original concrete structure. We had no green space on that piece of property. The only space we had where the children could play was on the basketball courts.
“That was just our worst example, but we had numerous schools that were at 150% capacity, 170% capacity, and it was nothing to have 15, 20, 25, and in some situations, 30 portables on a campus,” he said.
Chris Williams, director of planning for the school district, said: “In the first Penny, we did a lot of new schools as part of our projects, as well as renovations. When the Penny came up for renewal, we were in the recession, or just coming out of the recession, so our growth had pretty much gone to zero. So, our focus on the current Penny was more on renovations, rather than on new schools.
“With the growth that you all are well aware of, in our county — at this point, again, we’re going back to focusing on not only renovations, but also on new schools,” Williams said.
The proposed list includes numerous new schools.
“As you know the (State Road) 54 corridor in the Central Pasco area is booming, and so we are looking at doing potentially a new elementary school, probably in the Bexley development,” the planning director said.
“Also, along the (State Road) 52 corridor, we know that Central Pasco Employment Village is starting to come to fruition, just to the west of I-75, so we have a K-8 (kindergarten through eighth grade) school planned for that area.
“Also, we’re already planning on doing a K-8 school on the Smith property, which is in the Ballantrae area, along the (State Road) 54 corridor, and we anticipate opening that in 2025, but we’re looking toward using Penny money for that,” Williams said.
Also, in the Villages of Pasadena Hills — between Wesley Chapel and Dade City — the school district is expected to be building a K-8, or whatever is needed there, Williams said.
But those are just some of the projects that would be built with Penny proceeds.
The school district also would use the tax revenues to add computers in schools, upgrade the district’s computer network, fortify the safety on its campuses, upgrade athletic facilities and improve safety at driver pickup locations at schools, among other things.
The county proposes to spend its portion of the tax revenues this way: 40% for transportation, 20% for economic development, 20% for public safety; and, 20% for environmental lands, as well as park infrastructure.
County Administrator Dan Biles said using a portion of the funds for park infrastructure is a new idea, but is intended to equip recreational areas, so people can enjoy them.
The county administrator also noted that it’s impossible to accurately project revenues or costs over a 15-year period. So, he said, the hope is to underestimate revenues and overestimate costs.
Sheriff Chris Nocco noted: “Our county is growing too quickly, the needs are overwhelming right now.
“When we’re looking at the Penny, maybe we don’t always have to do it the same way. Maybe we could adjust it different ways to address different needs,” he said.
The first Penny was approved on a narrow margin, but the renewal received much boarder support, Gadd said.
Superintendent Kurt Browning said he hopes that voters give the second renewal resounding approval, as well.
“Moving forward, there’s a great deal of work that has to be done, in order to assure our public, our voters, that we’re worthy of the renewal and our district is committed to that end,” Browning said.
The two boards will be working in coming months to prepare to get the Penny for Pasco renewal placed on the November ballot, so voters can decide whether the 1-cent surtax should be extended.
Published April 06, 2022