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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

School board wants more information on one-cent sales tax

Tribune staff


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BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board engaged in a lengthy, occasionally emotional discussion about partnering with Brooksville and Hernando County officials on a campaign to promote a one-cent sales tax during a workshop Tuesday.

The district has a half-cent sales tax in place that is set to expire this year. School board members were discussing options to renew it when country and business leaders proposed the partnership to ask voters for a full cent.

A majority of board members said they want more information on the proposed partnership, projected financial affects of a penny sales tax, and proposed project lists from Brooksville and county leaders.

Addressing the school board, businessman Cliff Manuel said that money raised by a similar tax in Pasco County — known as Penny For Pasco — resulted in money to build new schools, neighborhoods and infrastructure.

“The money will go into a system designed to build projects that voters want,” Manuel said. In Pasco, he said, county municipal and school district leaders “didn’t look at one another like separate factions.”

Local business leaders want to form a political action committee to promote the penny sales tax, which could be put to a referendum on November ballots.

School Board Vice Chair Dianne Bonfield was skeptical.

“For me to see collaboration, there was no one there (in February) when we stood in front of the (county) commission and (lobbied) for money that would have specifically come to us through school impact fees, and we lost,” she said. “We needed the help, and we didn’t get it. What’s the difference? What’s the benefit to go in with them? The school district has done its part.

“I don’t see any benefit for us to get into this penny. I see the possibility of us losing.”

The county commission voted to reinstate impact fees for county parks, libraries, and transportation, but not education.

School board member Matt Foreman argued that the school board should give county, city and business leaders “time to show us the benefit.”

“I understand the importance of impact fees,” he said.

Eyeing a consortium of business leaders who attended Tuesday workshop in support of the tax, Bonfield replied: “It would have been nice to see these people at the county commission meeting” to support the district’s impact fee request.

Bonfield’s comments sparked an emotional response from school board member Cynthia Moore, who wanted more information about the proposed penny tax increase.

Her voice breaking, Moore asked Bonfield to detail the ways she has personally “helped each school.”

Local businessman John Druzbick, a former county commissioner and school board member, characterized the so-called Penny For Progress idea as “another opportunity in front of us,” as the board had just heard ways that an extension of a half-cent sales tax could benefit the school district.

“Our business partners believe the one-cent sales tax will (benefit) education and economic development, which go hand-in-hand,” he said.

School board member Matt Foreman, who had criticized the county commission’s decision on school impact fees, said that he has seen a proposed projects list that the additional penny could fund, and it “provides benefits for the school district.”

“Three people up here have said, ‘Let’s take a look’ ” at the potential benefits of the penny tax, Foreman said. “We can’t go tit-for-tat because the county commission didn’t OK impact fees.

“Someone has to be the adult,” he said to Bonfield. “Let’s be the adult.”

School Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino said he didn’t like the idea of “tying up county projects with school projects.”

On working with county and city officials, Guadagnino said: “Until the culture in this town changes, nothing’s going to change.”

School board member John Sweeney acknowledged that there have been hard feelings among the government entities.

“It truly is a new day,” he said. “This is going to be a challenge, but it’s supposed to be. The mission is bigger than any one of us. The focus is on the health and well-being of the county’s future. Let’s get it done.”

The board is expected to receive more information on the proposed new tax on June 10, while a vote on the issue is expected on June 24.

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