Residents reconsider Penny for Pinellas tax ahead of Nov. vote

- On November 7, voters in Pinellas County will decide whether they want to continue paying an extra 1-percent sales tax.

Right now, that money goes to an account called Penny for Pinellas, which funds capital infrastructure.

Wednesday night, county commissioners gave citizens a chance to weigh-in on what their future dollars will go towards, if the referendum is approved.

Residents said they want to see the money used in more ways than building parks and fixing roads. They say, with billions of dollars on the line, they're hoping their input will help the county spend it wisely.

“We have some flooding problems in Palm Harbor that could be addressed,” resident Teri Connors said.

“Part of this penny should go towards affordable housing," resident John Chase added.

For Lois Eannel, who runs the public library in East Lake, she's hoping more tax dollars will be redirected their way for an expansion if the Penny for Pinellas referendum is approved.

“We have a very small library, one of the smallest, and yet we serve over 32,000 residents,” she explained.

Through the 1-percent sales tax, Pinellas County has generated millions of dollars for the past three decades for the Penny for Pinellas fund. It pays for projects like road improvements, flood prevention, and preserving parks throughout the county, and its 24 cities.

“If you think about Key Stone Road, Bayside Bridge, even the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, those are some highlights of the many projects we've been able to complete using the Penny for Pinellas funding,” the director of marketing for Pinellas County, Barbara Hernandez explained.

An interactive map on the Penny for Pinellas website lists more than 200 projects that have benefited from the fund, but the tax which generates those funds is coming to an end. Citizens would have to vote to continue paying the tax for the years 2020 through 2030.

The Penny for Pinellas tax does not apply to groceries, baby food, medical supplies, and some other products that are considered essential. The $2 billion it would collect over the 10-year span would come from sale taxes paid by both residents and tourists when they shop.

Some hope, if the tax is renewed, the county finds projects that will help the people who live in Pinellas, rather than investing millions in beautifying the county.

“There's property owners in Palm Harbor that are currently on well and septic, that have roads that are basically gravel. No sidewalks, no lighting,” Teri Connors added.

The county has launched a survey on the Pinellas County website, encouraging residents to tell them where they want to see their money being spent. The survey will be open through April 16. The vote on the referendum is in November.

To take the survey, visit http://www.peakdemocracy.com/portals/255/forum_home.

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