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Wednesday, Mar 25, 2015

Covell: Penny for Progress takes away voters’ rights

Guest columnist


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The “Penny for Progress” sales tax referendum is being called an opportunity for taxpayers to reinvest in our community – a reinvestment for infrastructure improvements that most of us already paid in the way of impact fees when we moved into Hernando County.

The proposed sales tax increase is being sold as a new, improved collaboration among the Hernando County Commission, Hernando County School Board and Brooksville City Council. The missing link to this new collaboration are the citizens of Hernando County.

Combining the continuation of the half-cent sales tax for schools with a new half-cent sales tax for the county with “Penny for Progress” took away the voter’s choice – a choice for voters to support only continuation of the half-cent sales tax for schools without voting for a county sales tax increase for infrastructure that should have been covered by the collection of impact fees.

Hernando County commissioners suspended the collection of impact fees for schools, transportation, libraries and parks in 2011 as a method to jump-start the stagnant, recession-based economy. Hernando still has the highest unemployment rate in the region at 7.9 percent.

County commissioners raised our ad valorem taxes for the last three years. In fact, county taxpayers faced the highest property tax increase last year – the highest since the 1990’s. If that wasn’t enough, the budget director has proposed another ad valorem increase for the upcoming county budget.

Now county commissioners want taxpayers to pony up an additional half-cent in sales tax for infrastructure improvements that should have been collected with impact fees on new development since 2011.

Faced with a long list of such improvements, county commissioners just reinstated impact fees for transportation, libraries and parks.

But the same commissioners voted a resounding NO to supporting the reinstatement of school impact fees.

In a “new spirit of collaboration” with county government, school board members need to ask for immediate reinstatement of school impact fees – school impact fees that can be used on long-term debt to free up ad valorem dollars for maintenance and technology.

The school district’s long-term maintenance program already exceeds $73 million.

Taxpayers are faced with a dilemma – a dilemma generated by the school board when it agreed to jump on board with the county in “Penny for Progress” referendum. “Penny for Progress” takes away voters’ choice to support just the continuation of the half-cent school sales tax, without voting in a new half-cent sales tax increase for the county.

Anna Liisa Covell is a candidate for Hernando County School Board.

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