PORT RICHEY - Supporting the proposed Penny for Pasco sales tax increase is a "no-brainer," Sheriff Bob White said Thursday. And that's not because his agency would get some new patrol cars.
Rather, White said, he supports the tax because much of the money would go toward creating a "stellar school system" that could mean less juvenile crime, better opportunities for young adults and a better quality of life for everyone.
"If we can get to the point where Pasco County can have a stellar school system . . . the growth that we have will be much more affluent growth, and it will be more viable growth for Pasco County," White told the Pasco Times.
White pointed to the downsides of double-sessions if the schools become too crowded: frazzled parents juggling the cost and scheduling of before- and after-school activities, some children going unsupervised and getting into trouble, neighbors dealing with a rise in vandalism and other crimes.
"Kids and homes and families and schools - all of that stuff is interrelated, because most of what we do is referee families and neighborhoods," White said. "I am for having a very stellar school system, and it takes money to have that."
"I know in my heart of hearts that if we have a very strong school system, it improves the quality of life of retired people who have no children," White added. "It improves the quality of life of the business people that have investments in their business, and they don't want it vandalized."
At the same time, White said he did not plan to actively campaign in support of the proposed 1-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax hike, which heads to voters March 9.
"I'm not going to beat the drum for it . . . because that's not my place," White said. "My place is being the sheriff."
If approved by voters, the sales tax increase would raise about $437-million over its 10-year life span, with about a quarter of that paying for a property tax cut from the School Board.
The county and the school district would then each get 45 percent of the revenue, and the cities would split the rest.
The county has pledged 20 percent of its share toward "public safety" projects, including 50 laptop computers for sheriff's detectives and the earlier replacement of 794 sheriff's patrol cars over 10 years, curbing maintenance costs.
That could free up some of the county's existing revenue for other big-ticket sheriff's items, such as a new radio system and an expansion of the jail. But White said his office still could function smoothly without the Penny for Pasco revenue.
"It will help us, but it will not make any inroads for us," White said.
Like state Rep. Heather Fiorentino, White said the school system has the strongest case for a sales tax increase. Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey, now is running for Pasco superintendent of schools.
"If the schools had gone it on their own, it probably would have a better chance," White said.
Despite polls showing support for Penny for Pasco hovering around 60 percent of registered voters, White said he has talked to many residents who are reluctant to support a sales tax increase.
"I have my doubts personally (about whether Penny for Pasco will pass) based on the citizens I speak to," White said. "They want more services but they don't want to pay for it."
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Penny for Pasco will be up for debate - without White - at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Beacon Woods Civic Center, 12440 Clocktower Parkway in Bayonet Point.
Allen Altman and Bill Phillips, co-chairs of the Pasco's Citizen Committee, will argue in favor of the sales tax increase.
Ann Bunting, head of Citizens Against the Penny for Pasco, and GOP state committeeman John Renke II will argue against it.
- Bridget Hall Grumet covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org