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Penny for Projects wish list released

Published:   |   Updated: August 24, 2014 at 06:31 PM

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The list of projects that would be undertaken if the Penny for Projects sales tax referendum passes in November reads like a litany of campaign promises from a political candidate.

An approved tax would mean an electronic tablet for every Hernando County student and climate-controlled buildings that aren’t crumbling as children try to learn.

It would fund road improvements that could bring more business to downtown Brooksville.

Work would commence on congested county roads, with the aim of improving safety for motorists and pedestrians at dangerous intersections.

Compiling the list of proposed projects has required unprecedented collaboration among business leaders and officials with Hernando County’s government, the city of Brooksville and the Hernando County School District.

That cooperation has led to the formation of the Penny For Projects Committee, a political action group that is working with Hernando Progress to promote the tax.

If the initiative passes, tax revenues essentially would be split between the county and the school district, although several county projects — such as road and sidewalk improvements — also would benefit local schools. Improvements to a major gateway to Brooksville, among other projects, would benefit the city.

Eric Williams, public information officer with the school district, said the penny could mean $85 million in revenue for the cash-strapped district during the measure’s 10-year existence.

The bulk of that money, nearly $62.4 million, would be spent on buying electronic tablets for each Hernando student, as well as computer replacements.

“Whatever’s left over would be what we use to replace roofs, replace HVAC units and replace fire alarm systems” at several schools, Williams said.

The tablets are not simply to keep up to date with technological trends.

“One of our biggest drives is that we have a lot of computer-based instructional requirements through the Legislature and Department of Education,” Williams said. “Starting in 2016, 50 percent of our annual instruction materials funds must be spent on digital instructional materials. We’re required to transition from textbooks to e-books,” he said.

Other high-ticket items on the proposed projects list include:

♦ A nearly $20 million, two-part expansion of Barclay Avenue from Elgin Boulevard to San Antonio Road, and from San Antonio to Lucky Lane.

♦ A more than $13.6 million expansion of Powell Road, from Barclay to California Street.

♦ Nearly $14 million for two projects at heavily congested Mariner Boulevard and State Road 50, including intersection improvements and a frontage road system on the south side of the intersection.

♦ More than $6 million in improvements to South Main Street in Brooksville, from Liberty Street to Cortez Boulevard.

♦ Nearly $5 million to expand Deltona Boulevard to three lanes.

The list also includes sidewalks in the areas of K-8 Explorer School, J.D. Floyd Elementary School and Westside Elementary School, as well as a pedestrian crossing bridge that would allow students to access Springstead High School

Committee member John Mitten stressed the recommendations still must be ratified by county commissioners, the school board and the Brooksville City Council.

Mitten, owner of a local Chick-fil-A franchise, said a full-court promotional effort touting the sales tax will begin after Tuesday’s primary election.

“We (want) to educate Hernando County as to the ‘why’ question behind the investment of Penny for Projects,” Mitten said. “Every dollar raised is going to stay in Hernando County and be spent on projects that are” in Hernando.

Committee members want the process to be transparent so voters know what projects are being considered for the extra tax money.

“We have citizen oversight committees that would check and make sure the monies are being spent where they’re supposed to,” Mitten said.

The committee is modeling its efforts after the Penny for Pasco initiative which voters there approved in 2004.

Pasco has received about $140 million, with about 45 percent going to help renovate and maintain schools.

Mitten said it passed because of efforts by a similar committee that promoted benefits of the tax, as well as safeguards to ensure the money is used properly.

Committee Chairman Morris Porton, a retired local banker, said he doesn’t expect changes in the submitted project list because they have been fully vetted by the committee.

He said the projects material is being bound and will be placed in libraries and other public places so residents can view them. There also will be opportunities for people to attend speaking engagements to be held in the community, he said.

The political committee also hopes to get its website up and running in a week or so.

“If (voters) are going to vote for something, they need to know what they’re paying for,” Porton said.

Williams, the school district spokesman, said the committee also has discussed ramifications if the sales tax does not pass.

“We’re all concerned about that,” he said. “But, we’re together now and took clear direction from our boards. We’re doing everything we can to get word out. If it fails, it would be a very huge impact on (the school district’s) annual operating budget — about $8.6 million per year.

“That’s very significant with our current budget crunch. We’d have to look at cutting programs and services.”

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