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Residents can get their 1 cent in

The county wants your opinions to flow at meetings about extending the Penny for Pinellas sales tax.

Published September 19, 2006

As a civil engineer, Mike Ryle knows that roads don't last forever.

And as a resident of Pinellas for 49 years, Ryle says the county has needs that property taxes alone cannot cover.

That's why Ryle, 55, of Largo went to a public meeting Monday at the Indian Rocks Beach Civic Auditorium to voice his support for extending the Penny for Pinellas sales tax.

The meeting was the first of four community meetings where county officials will seek public opinions on the proposed extension of the tax, which goes to voters on March 13.

On Monday, people who came to the meeting put pennies in one of two jars to give county officials an idea whether they favored renewing the tax. Early on, at least, most of the pennies went to the jar for extending the tax.

Ryle said he favored using the penny for roads and parks. But when he saw that half a billion dollars might go for jail improvements over the next decade, he said thought that was a bit much.

Still, Ryle and several other residents mentioned the appeal of getting non-Pinellas residents to help pick up the costs of big capital improvement projects.

"The tourists ease the pain and we get a lot more improvements," said Mike Link, 58, of St. Petersburg.

Many participants Monday indicated that they wanted to see the penny spent on improving stormwater drainage.

Kelly Cisarik, 41, of Indian Rocks Beach said the sales tax revenues would come in handy, especially because she fears that property tax values are going to drop, putting a strain on property tax revenues.

Cisarik said she wants to see that the funds are "not wasted on fancy buildings," but used for issues of critical importance, such as maintaining infrastructure like roads, sewers and bridges.

County voters originally passed the Penny for Pinellas in 1989 and have renewed it once since then. An estimated 35 percent of Penny revenues come from tourists and part-time residents. The tax is collected on the first $5,000 of any one purchase, excluding necessities such as groceries and medicine.

If extended from 2010 to 2020, the tax would be expected to generate $1.9-billion for local projects. Penny revenues are shared by Pinellas County government and the county's 24 municipalities.

[Last modified September 19, 2006, 07:58:05]

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