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Pinellas wants to prolong penny tax

By WILL VAN SANT
Published August 2, 2006


CLEARWATER - The Penny for Pinellas sales tax is the most essential source of revenue Pinellas County collects after property taxes.

And county leaders want it to keep coming for another decade so they can build more roads, finish the Pinellas Trail and replace the Sheriff's Office, among other projects.

Residents can expect a county promotional blitz this fall aimed at generating support for the tax, which voters will be asked on March 13 to extend from 2010 to 2020.

Since residents first approved the penny on the dollar levy in 1989, it has become increasingly important to county government operations. Today, it accounts for 75 percent of all Pinellas' spending on public infrastructure.

"I'm eager for the commissioners to get out there and explain the benefits the Penny has brought to our citizens and why it's a wise investment," said County Commission Chairman Ken Welch. "We have got a great story to tell."

It's projected a new penny would bring in nearly $2-billion over 10 years. A large chunk comes off the top to pay for court and jail needs, the county takes 52 percent of what remains, and cities divvy up the rest based on population.

Officials have been fine-tuning a detailed list of "signature projects" they hope the new penny will fund, including replacing the Dunedin Causeway bridge, improving Gulf Boulevard and buying land for affordable housing.

Transportation projects would eat up the bulk of what the county hopes to get from the Penny. The rest would be spent on everything from flood control projects to land preservation.

Cities are doing the same. It's likely some projects will be discussion points during public hearings that will be held in September.

Dates and times have not been set.

As county officials are quick to point out, an estimated 35 percent of the tax is paid by tourists and visitors. When the 2000 to 2010 Penny extension was approved in 1997, it was supported by 65 percent of voters.

County leaders plan to reach out to neighborhood groups and to use e-mail surveys to come up with a list of proposed projects that the public can get behind come March.

"I'm going to be going full tilt between now and then," County Administrator Steve Spratt said. "It's critical."

- Will Van Sant can be reached at 727 445-4166 or vansant@sptimes.com.

Penny wish list:

The Penny for Pinellas sales tax is collected only on the first $5,000 of any purchase. Purchases of food and medication are exempt. Here's some of the projects the county hopes the Penny will pay for if voters extend its collection from 2010 to 2020:

- A 118th Avenue expressway linking Interstate 275 and U.S. 19: $40-million.

- Replace the Dunedin Causeway bridge: $127.5-million.

- Undergrounding of overhead lines and streetscaping on Gulf Boulevard: $70-million.

- Paving and road improvements: $165-million.

- Land purchases to preserve public beach access: $23-million.

- Completion of the Pinellas Trail: $12-million.

- New Sheriff's Office and Medical Examiner's Office headquarters: $65-million.

- Land purchases for affordable housing projects: $40-million.

- New health and human services campus: $26-million.

- Stormwater system upgrades: $70-million.

For more information, go to www.pinellascounty.org/penny/default.htm.

[Last modified August 2, 2006, 06:51:37]


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