Pro-tax campaign leader Allen Altman is accused of trying to personally benefit from projects. Property Appraiser Mike Wells calls the allegation "a stretch."
By STEPHEN HEGARTY
Published February 26, 2004
For a while, leaders of an antitax group have promised a pre-election bombshell regarding the Penny for Pasco referendum.
That bombshell dropped this week. Bill and Ann Bunting have alleged that Allen Altman, a leader of the pro tax campaign, would personally benefit from road projects that would be paid for by the tax increase. They point to some east Pasco land purchases Altman made in the past few years.
"Can it be a coincidence that he's investing heavily and suddenly he's promoting this tax increase to build roads?" asked Ann Bunting, head of Citizens Against the Penny for Pasco. "I think people would be interested to know that he has a financial interest in it."
But Pasco Property Appraiser Mike Wells, who like the Buntings is a die-hard Republican, had this to say when asked about their allegations: "I'd say that would be a stretch.
"In my opinion, it would be hard to demonstrate a direct benefit from a road project unless it runs right through or abuts the property," Wells said. None of Altman's properties are in the immediate vicinity of the road projects.
Wells, who faces re-election this year, said he was reluctant to get in the middle of the Penny for Pasco debate. As the campaign winds down (the vote is March 9) the rhetoric is heating up, with both sides accusing the other of playing fast and loose with the facts.
The Buntings have been frustrated in their attempts at getting out their antitax message. The Penny for Pasco campaign has a 46-to-1 fundraising advantage, and both the schools and county government are providing information on the 1-cent tax increase.
For weeks the Buntings have promised a revelation that would undermine the campaign. Bill Bunting mentioned the Altman allegations Tuesday during a 15-minute radio interview on WMNF-FM 88.5.
Altman said he was eating a tuna sandwich while driving his car when he heard the end of Bunting's interview. He said he missed the allegations directed at him. His reaction to the allegations was surprisingly upbeat.
"That's it? That's their big bombshell," Altman said Wednesday. "If that is their big bombshell, then we're in wonderful shape."
In an attempt to bolster his allegations, Bill Bunting said that even County Commissioner Peter Altman, who favors the tax, thinks Allen Altman's land dealings are questionable.
But Commissioner Altman (who is not related to Allen Altman) denied telling Bunting he thinks there's something questionable about Allen Altman's land deals.
"No, no, I see no linkage there at all," Peter Altman said. "That's an awfully big stretch to say that he's directly benefitting."
The Penny for Pasco road projects in east Pasco are limited to improvements at the intersection of Prospect Road and State Road 52, and resurfacing on part of Clinton Avenue.
The closest property that Allen Altman owns is a pair of parcels, totaling 20 acres, off of U.S. 98 southeast of Dade City. It is about 4 miles from the intersection of Prospect and SR 52, and about 2 miles from the end of the resurfacing project.
"There is zero in the Penny projects that benefits what I own," Altman said.
On Wednesday, Ann Bunting made some more general allegations.
"The infusion of the sales tax money will make all the land where the roads and the new schools go more valuable," Bunting said. "I know a lot of people who own land will benefit from that. But not everyone is going around campaigning to raise your taxes."
Said Allen Altman: "Their effort is just to muddy the water. All their efforts do nothing to help build schools or fix dangerous roads. That's what I'd rather work on."
- Staff writer Bridget Hall Grumet contributed to this report.