Enthusiasm should replace equivocation on sales tax
By C.T. BOWEN
Published February 15, 2004
Not four as in 4.
Not fore as in watch out for my errant drive off the tee.
For. As in vote for the proposed sales tax increase.
Three letters. Significant meaning accompanied in some quarters by political equivocating.
Pasco County commissioners plan to educate their constituents on how the county will spend its share of the sales tax proceeds: Improved roads, preserved land, public safety equipment. A video is to be shown Tuesday morning. A public question and answer session follows. Later, newspaper advertisements will appear.
Supposedly, none of the county's campaign will tell people to vote for the Penny for Pasco referendum March 9 in which voters will be asked to increase the sales tax from 6 to 7 percent to pay for capital construction projects over the next 10 years.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri doesn't want to spend any money at all. The commission, with Mulieri dissenting, budgeted $35,000 on its campaign, but cost estimates on the newspaper advertising are lower than projected. Mulieri said she fears the county message will be political instead of informational.
It is an unfortunate irony. Mulieri is trying to appease a constituency that previously criticized the sales tax proposal because it didn't know how the county would spend the proceeds. Now, those same people don't want the county to spend money to tell them exactly what they had been clamoring for.
Who said ignorance is bliss?
Other commissioners insist the information is issue-oriented.
"We are not promoting; we are distributing information," argued Commissioner Steve Simon. "It's not a privilege; it's our duty and obligation."
Still, Simon doesn't want the county telling people to vote for the tax proposal. Just tell them the date of the election and what the proceeds will be used for.
Now, consider the stance in Dade City. It has the highest property tax rate of any local government in Pasco County. It dissolved its fire department. It shrank its police department. And, it plans to use its sales tax proceeds, estimated at $463,000 in the first full year, on such essential (but nonsexy items) as improving its deteriorating infrastructure: sewers, water pipes and drainage.
"We are taking an advocacy position," said City Manager Harold Sample. "The commission previously recognized this is a very significant position for Dade City and very important for Dade City, and we are going to urge city residents to support it."
The message will go out in a letter to city water customers. It hasn't been written yet, but Sample expects to point out the election date, the availability to vote via absentee and early balloting and "we will ask them to help their city."
His counterpart in Zephyrhills, Steve Spina, is showing a Powerpoint presentation to interested civic groups.
It doesn't specifically tell residents to vote for the proposed tax increase, but Spina said he is under no instructions from the council to avoid an advocacy position.
"It's more of a positive spin, definitely," said Spina. "We think it's kind of a win-win for us as a local government, but we don't push it that much."
Zephyrhills, expecting about $800,000 a year from the sales tax increase, plans to spend it on police and fire equipment, roads, sidewalks and drainage, park improvements including purchase of a park site, an improved library and possibly a multipurpose civic center.
Sadly, the debate in the County Commission chambers this week detracts from the bigger issue. Pasco schools are overcrowded. Some roads and intersections are congested and unsafe. Environmentally sensitive land is worth preserving. Public safety equipment is needed. School property tax rates will be cut.
It is a $437-million question, yet it continues to dissolve into penny ante rhetoric surrounding a litany of irrelevant topics including salaries, pensions, access, geographical support, management style and now government advocacy.
Pasco's County Commission can't seem to drum up the across-the-board enthusiasm that permeates Pasco's School Board and the governing bodies of its six cities.
"I'm disappointed we're not all in this together," Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said Tuesday amid a debate over how best to inform the public of the tax benefits.
She wondered what would have happened to the 1986 parks and library referendum if the commission hadn't earmarked $25,000 for a pro-active campaign.
Here's another idea. Take a gander at Hernando County's government Web site at www.co.hernando.fl.us/ There is a message concerning that county's March 9 sales tax referendum. In red letters, it urges people to vote "Yes to Hernando."
Maybe that's the key. Our neighbors to the north avoided the dreaded word for.