Today's Letters: That penny can make life better
By LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published March 13, 2007
Friends, I am asking you to go to the polls today and vote "yes" for the Penny for Pinellas. I am asking you to contact your family, friends, neighbors, business associates and your "network" to vote "yes."
When the first Penny referendum was presented to the citizens of Pinellas County, it was a radical idea that we could pay for "infrastructure needs" (construction, not salaries) that our county needed very badly. This radical response, rather than raising our property taxes (as other communities have decided), passed by only a few hundred votes. The original funds helped to build the Bayside Bridge, the Pinellas Trail and other projects that improved our communities.
One-third of all the money raised by the Penny is contributed by our tourists and visitors. Imagine that! So, with the success of the first Penny, the citizens were asked to continue the benefits. Our citizens voted overwhelmingly (more than 60 percent) to continue this funding source that would enable the construction of libraries, roadways and new parks. The "second penny" has been recognized as a "second success."
And so now, with two successes as part of the history of our county, we are being asked to continue that success one more time. This is why you need to make sure you take the time today to vote in favor of the "next penny."
The Penny for Pinellas doesn't help the homeless or other social needs in our communities. We have a regular budget in every city and at the county level that addresses the "people needs." We elect leaders to make the decisions where our regular funds go and how they help people. We each give donations from our hearts to religious and civic organizations whose missions are to help people. We in Pinellas County are a very caring and committed people.
I challenge our religious and civic leaders to continue to be dedicated to help our neighbors in need.
But on the Penny for Pinellas, vote "yes" because you are not happy with gridlocked roadways, and "yes" will mean more funds to improve our road system. Vote "yes" because you like the improvements that the Penny made over the past two decades, and you know the benefits will make our lives here much better.
We want the Pinellas Trail completed by 2020. We want a roadway system that enables us to drive to our destinations without mass gridlock by 2020. We want our neighborhoods to be safe from flooding by 2020. We want to be able to enjoy our "green spaces" located throughout our county. We want improved facilities that match our criteria for quality living.
There is still much to do.
Scott Daniels, Clearwater
Forget the penny, stick to a budget
I'm struggling with trying to support renewal of the Penny for Pinellas. County, and municipal leaders must fear not having that extra income. They are promoting it everywhere with signs, mailings, on local cable and in the newspaper. There have been veiled threats that if the Penny fails, we can expect higher taxes elsewhere.
Government spending starts at the local level. If we complain about government spending, then voluntarily tax ourselves to give government more money to spend, how then can we stop this crazy cycle?
Look at the projects that we really need. Build, fund and produce only those essential to the infrastructure and we will be okay. Take out those projects some say we "just have to have" but don't. Fix the streets, fight the crime and quit building monuments. We don't need another park or golf course; Pinellas has more of them than any other like-size county in Florida.
The Penny served us well for all those projects thus far, but now is the time to let it go. Seventeen years is enough.
With the escalating property taxes, should not the county and cities be able to live within their proposed budgets? My property taxes have almost doubled in the past three years, far outstripping the rate of inflation and the Gross Domestic Product. What are they doing with all that extra money? That increased income should be used to offset the need for the Penny.
Being able to vote against a tax is an oddity, so vote for or against the tax, but vote. Don't let something this important be decided by a 20 percent turnout.
Dennis Roper, Clearwater
The needs for the penny are real
Over the past few weeks, I have read with interest numerous letters in opposition to the Penny for Pinellas, and in every way, I respect their views and skepticism over the stewardship of local governments. We get it - people are angry and simply want to be able to afford to stay in their homes.
This message has resonated all the way to Tallahassee and the "fix" is in process. Our legislators have "fixed" the insurance crisis, and are now working to "fix" local governments' ability to raise income for basic services. It doesn't seem to matter that the swelling of local government budgets began with unfunded mandates and drastic cuts in federal and state assistance.
We will always abide by the rules passed by our superiors, and I am certain that whatever they do, it will be in the best interest of our state. Local governments will accept it and rise to the new challenges of providing quality services with significantly less money. We have no choice.
With all of the organized opposition to Penny, I feel compelled to point out the stark realities of need vs. want. Voting against Penny means that you are satisfied with the existing inventory and condition of our recreation centers, libraries, pools, fire stations, streets, sidewalks, fleet vehicles, parks, amenities and storm water systems, and that any more would only serve to satisfy a want, not a need.
Very good. Let's go a step further. Over the next 10 years, local governments will still be required to address "needs" like replacement of police vehicles, fire engines and ladder trucks; excessive building maintenance for obsolete structures; sea walls, sidewalks, roads, street lighting, bridge reconstruction, jail facilities (you still don't want the bad guys in your neighborhood), channel dredging, storm water treatment and relief, etc.
Where is this money going to come from? Please don't forget that our friends in Tallahassee are going to fix local governments. The answer: general operating budgets. Yes, we may not replace that antiquated 50-year-old gym, but we still must meet the basic infrastructure needs of our communities.
The decision of need vs. want now becomes fuzzy. Social services - not in the budget. Neighborhood grants - we can't afford it. Traffic calming - get real. Grants to museums, arts, cultural events, after school and summer programs - gone.
You will hear things like, "I remember when we had great museums, aquariums, and piers."
"We used to have parades and orchestras, and family events downtown - I miss that."
"This city used to be so clean."
If local governments with flat incomes are forced to choose between public safety/basic infrastructure needs and "luxury" items like museums, arts, social services, festivals, recreation, teen centers, parks - what do you think will win?
Far be it for me to suggest how one should vote. As for me, I support the Penny. I would rather contribute 1 penny at a time and graciously accept the contributions of our tourists than do without the things that make Pinellas a great place to live, work, and yes, play. It is still about quality of life.
Local governments will tighten our belts. However, please don't be so misguided to believe that the Penny is irrelevant to our quality of life or only there to provide pork for luxury wants.
It's all about need now, and the needs are real. Please think about it.
Bill Foster, St. Petersburg City Council member
County needs to manage spending
I wonder why the county keeps telling us how they can spend all the money from the Penny for Pinellas and are already planning on having it. Why aren't they saying anything about becoming more efficient and spending less? For example, the county has their own Information Systems. Is that really necessary?
The structure of the county government has nobody at the top to take total responsibility and control, and that leads to replication, pet projects, etc. I think overall the county does a great job, but I also know it can do better.
If the penny gets voted down a message will be sent. And don't worry - it will be back on the next ballot.
Raymond Szynal, Palm Harbor
Vote and let your voice be heard
Your vote counts! How disgruntled or satisfied are you? Today on Election Day, let our representatives know. We do have a voice.
JoAnna Anderson, Clearwater
The following is a summary of the St. Petersburg Times' recommendations in today's election.
Penny for Pinellas extension: YES
City Council Seat 5: Norma Carlough
Boat slip referendum: YES
City employee pension changes: YES
For mayor: Beverley Billiris
City Commission Seat 3: Peter Dalacos
For mayor: Andy Steingold
City Council Seat 1: Greg Rublee