Largo Adds More Projects to Growing Penny Fund Totals
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - With millions of dollars already obligated from a fund from which the first dollar is yet to be received in its third replication, the City Commission Tuesday night added to expenditures to be financed by the Penny for Pinellas fund.
That is the popular name for the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), which will enter its third 10-year plan beginning in 2011.
Approved Tuesday night were expenditures that will add $1,008,167 to money derived from "Penny" funds.
The commission gave the green light to four projects totaling $983,167 plus another $25,000 to obtain a right of way on Alternate Keene Road.
Those expenditures are perhaps coming from funds available in the current LOST fund account, and may not impinge on funds yet to come in, but the spending seems to betoken a belief on the part of the city administration that the LOST fund is inexhaustible.
As Gazette columnist Chuck Pollick pointed out, "The name 'Penny for Pinellas' was derived from creative folks who wanted to disguise an add-on tax for Pinellas County taxpayers. The add-on tax was intended to be used to help fund county/city projects that perhaps would not be funded due to restricted government budgets and revenues. Penny For Pinellas tax revenues have been used to pay for many Pinellas County projects; in fact, many local governments count on 'Penny' tax revenues in their budget planning process."
And there is the rub - "many local governments count on 'Penny' tax revenues in their planning process."
So the availability of the fund is not used cautiously, it seems. The fund is taken for granted and currently, in Largo, prospects of what revenue will be coming in over the years ahead seem overblown by some who have reviewed the numbers.
The biggest item approved Tuesday night was $610,450 for the drainage improvement system in the Margaret Manor subdivision which the city says now has insufficient drainage to take runoff along 6th and 7th Avenues.
Flooding is said to occur during heavy and extended rainfall. The project will divert flow around residential properties and once begun is expected to take seven months.
The city administration explicitly said that funding for the project is provided by the LOST fund.
The other project approved Tuesday that will include LOST funds is new sidewalk construction along McMullen Road as well as sidewalk repair elsewhere.
Of the $249,000 total cost of this project, $149,000 will come from the LOST fund with the remaining $100,000 coming from general funds.
According to the staff memo describing the project, when costs were tallied up there was a $17,000 shortfall and that amount came from the LOST fund.
The third project is a $387,435 outlay for something called a "low impact alleys retrofit" in the Roosevelt Groves subdivision where a porous surface will be used to speed water absorption. Southwest Florida Water Management District will pay half.
The commission heard a presentation on the Pinellas County Transportation Task Force from Robert Pergolizzi, a consultant.
An extensive proposal that would be a huge step for the area, the mayor and commission heard the presentation politely with no questions until Commissioner Curtis Holmes asked the most obvious query of all.
Positing that he understood that any such project must have an ongoing and sustainable source of revenue, Holmes asked if it was true that another penny being added to the sales tax was contemplated.
Pergolizzi's answer was "Yes."
That would bring the sales tax total to 8 percent.
Mayor Pat Gerard then pointed out that it would face a referendum vote.
Commissioner Harriet Crozier, a member of the Transportation Task Force, remained mute.
After all, it is a ticklish situation when you are running for re-election.
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