Penny for Pasco renewal starts ballot language debate
LAND O' LAKES - The Pasco County Commission is still wrestling with a few details of the ballot language as it prepares to place a renewal of the Penny for Pasco sales tax on the November ballot. Generally, the wording appears set, but some subtle changes could be in the offing, such as whether to include the specific percentages of tax proceeds that go to the school board, the county and the municipalities. While it's a seemingly easy job, drafting ballot language can be tricky, Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker said Wednesday during a joint workshop of the county commission and the school board. "It's a bit of an art combined with a science," she said.Several legal principles come into play, she said, including a 75-word limit, the need for clear language and a general description of what is being proposed. Baker said one key word included in the proposed language is "continue" because the county wants to make it clear that voters would be choosing to continue a tax already existence and not creating a new one. The county commission expects to adopt an ordinance containing the ballot language July 10. The ballot language needs to be to the supervisor of elections office by Aug. 1. Penny for Pasco is an extra 1-cent sales tax that Pasco voters approved in 2004. The tax expires at the end of 2014 unless county, school district and city officials can convince voters to extend it for another 10 years. Since its inception, the tax has paid for construction of new schools, renovation of old schools, road improvement projects, purchase of public safety vehicles and equipment, and the purchase of environmental lands, among other projects. Proceeds from the tax are shared, with the county commission and the school board each receiving 45 percent and the municipalities getting the remaining 10 percent. One of the discussions Wednesday about the ballot wording focused on those percentages and whether they should be included. Two points of view emerged. There was the less-is-more view. "I'd like to keep it simple and leave it out," County Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand said. There was the show-all-the-cards view. "I like the percentages in so I know where the money is going," County Administrator John Gallagher said. Either way, the percentages are set in an interlocal agreement that the county, the school board and the municipalities all sign. School board member Alison Crumbley favored including the percentages, but regardless she is happy with the proposed ballot language. "This is the easiest ballot item to understand I've ever read," she said. The proposed language, still subject to change, reads: "Shall Pasco County continue to levy a one-cent sales surtax, beginning in 2015, to fund public infrastructure to 2024, and be shared among the district school board (45%), Pasco County (45%) and Pasco's cities (10%) for job creation and economic development projects (pursuant to section 212.005(2)(d)3, Florida statutes); public safety facilities, vehicles and equipment; educational facilities, career academies and technology; acquiring environmentally sensitive lands; and infrastructure related to transportation and safety needs."