Learning the Value of a Penny

This county document outlines what types of project may be funded with Pinellas revenue and what is funded through property taxes. Without penny revenue, the projects that it helps fund would have to be funded through other sources like additional property taxes.

Learning the Value of a Penny

By Betsy Judge

For a fourth time, voters in Pinellas County will have the opportunity to say yea or nay to the 1 cent, Penny for Pinellas sales tax on Nov. 7.

Barbara Hernandez, director of marketing and communication for Pinellas County uses the new fire station on Tierra Verde as one example of the types of projects that are made possible thanks to the current iteration of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax during a community presentation. The tax is up for it’s fourth, 10-year renewal. If voters approve the referendum again, county officials project it will bring in approximately $2 billion over the 10 years. YouTube photo.

Thousands of county and city capital projects have been funded primarily through penny revenue, and the county estimates the tax will bring in an additional $2 billion over the course of the next 10 year extension (2020 – 2030) if voters approve the referendum. The revenue is split between the county and 24 municipalities using a population-based formula the state establishes.

It’s hard to find any arguments against the tax that pays for infrastructure such as roads, bridges and trails, water quality, flood and sewer spill prevention projects, public safety equipment and vehicles, fire stations, parks, environmental land acquisition, libraries, community centers and land for housing that’s affordable.

Even the Tampa Bay Times recommended a yes vote to their readers the day after they reported that county commissioners sold a parcel of land purchased with penny revenue for a $1.7 million loss.

“The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce and board of directors absolutely sup- ports the renewal of Penny for Pinellas as it enhances the quality of life for us in Pinellas and assists in some infrastructure needs. The best part is that tourists pay it too,” says Robin Sollie, president and CEO of the chamber.

This Penny for Pinellas Accomplishments Map from www.pinellas.org shows highlights from nearly 30 years of strategic investment by the county and the 24 cities to build a better Pinellas with improved infrastructure. Visitors roll over each respective number to see the exact project.

Who would argue with “Building a Better Pinellas,” the tagline associated with it? All of the penny revenue comes back to the county compared to about 6.5 percent of state sales tax revenue according to a county presentation. Pinellas County officials estimate that 30 percent of the tax, which is not levied on groceries or medications, is paid by visitors. It is also only collected on the first $5,000 of large purchases like boats and cars. And with out it, the money for all the projects it helps fund would have to come from other sources like additional property taxes putting the burden on homeowners.

The Board of County Commissioners (BBC) weighs the needs of the communities based on citizen input, staff input and the county’s strategic plan to come up with projects and priorities.

This county document outlines what types of project may be funded with Pinellas revenue and what is funded through property taxes. Without penny revenue, the projects that it helps fund would have to be funded through other sources like additional property taxes.

“Citizen input is at the top of the list,” said Barabara Hernandez, director of marketing & communications for the county. “We regularly get input at public meetings, public workshops and such.” They also did surveys, and they get input from county staff members when they go out in the community. “All that info is compiled and provided to the board (BCC). It is considered in light of the county’s strategic plan and partner (municipalities) input.”

“There are five major categories we have identified that the penny has funded. The biggest project area historically–and will be–are projects that support faster, safer transportation for residents.” according to Josh Boatwright, a county public information specialist. Citizens surveyed each year say that is their biggest concern.

The other four areas are: neighborhood growth and vitality which includes projects like recreation centers; workforce housing where the county buys land that can be used for the development of affordable housing; safer communities which includes building or renovating first responder facilities and equipment and the new Pinellas County Public Safety Complex complex on Ulmerton Road; parks and natural resources which Josh says includes improvements to almost every park in the county; and water quality and flood control.

“Stormwater is obviously a big issue that people are focused on. Penny has supported numerous projects to improve drainage in streets and neighborhoods and stabilize major creeks and bodies of water so they don’t erode and cause degradation of the environment.”

For more information go to their website at www.pinellascounty.org under Special Interest.