Commission settles on ballot pitch for penny tax
NEW PORT RICHEY - Pasco County commissioners agreed Tuesday on the proposed ballot language for the November referendum on extending Penny for Pasco for another 10 years. The consensus appears to put to rest the debate about how much of the sales tax funding should go to pay for environmental lands. Last month, Commissioners Jack Mariano and Henry Wilson voiced objections over the distribution formula, which would allocate equal portions — about $45 million over 10 years — for environmental lands, public safety and economic development and $90 million for transportation projects. They thought the funding level for environmental lands was too high and suggested reducing it by half. But at Tuesday's workshop, neither commissioner objected to the formula. The only subject up for debate was whether to include percentages in the referendum. County Administrator John Gallagher argued in favor of keeping in the percentages."If you want people to vote for it, you should tell them how you're going to spend the money," he said. Commissioners won't formally vote on the ballot language until July 10. County staff projects that the next 10-year cycle would bring in more than $502 million, of which Pasco County and the school district would each receive 45 percent. The county's six municipalities would receive the remaining 10 percent, to be distributed based on population figures from the 2010 census. In other business, commissioners discussed upcoming budget requests with a handful of county department heads. County Budget Chief Michael Nurrenbrock told commissioners that even with a property tax increase, he's projecting a $6.9 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2013. Only two department heads, Fire Chief Anthony Lopinto and Customer Service Manager Heather Grimes, asked for additional staffing. Lopinto wants $750,000 to hire 10 additional firefighters and a new information technology specialist, which would allow him to move two current firefighters from IT back to the field. Grimes requested almost $320,000 to hire five new efficiency experts to analyze data and find ways to streamline county government. "I know it's kind of a touchy thing to add staff when we're in the position we are, but I feel like we're at the point where we need it," she said. "There are things we know we need to fix. We don't have the people to focus on the improvements." Gallagher said he would consider supporting the two positions for the county's utility departments, but not the three that would have to come out of the general fund. "I can't afford five positions in the general fund," he said.
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